Energy and transportation

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Temps de lecture : 4 minutes  

Transport relies on oil for 96% of its energy supply. This explains its major role in greenhouse gaz emissions.

In 2005, 58% of global demand for oil products (excluding electricity) was for transport. This compares with 36% in 1973. Worldwide oil demand is predicted to increase by around 1.3% per year during the period 2004-2030, with a 0.6% increase in annual demand from the OECD zone and approximately 3% growth from China and India. Two thirds of this increase will be used for transport, principally by road. According to a report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 2006 saw an 8% increase in international trade in goods across all modes of transport. This breaks down into growth rates of 4% for rail, 4.5% for road and 4.3% for maritime trade. In 2005, transport was responsible for 27% of total global greenhouse gas emissions (up from 21% in 1990), three-quarters of which arose from road transport. According to the European Commission on Transport, emissions from transport will increase three times faster than other sources of pollution until 2020. During the last 100 years, the world traffic of travellers has tripled, and goods traffic has increased 1000 fold.

Alternative fuels

Transport relies on oil for 96% of its energy supply. The other available sources are still marginal, and fuel from agricultural origins (biofuels) is seeing strong development:

The Natural Gas Vehicle (NGV) accounts for approximately 5 million vehicles, notably fleets of public city vehicles like buses or garbage trucks. In 2006, it represented 0.3% of the world’s energy consumption for transport.

Liquid natural gas (LNG) represented 1.1% of consumption in 2005.

EMHV or Diester, produced in part from oil extracts from rapeseed (canola), soybeans, sunflower or palm plants and used in diesel engines. Worldwide production of these fuels in 2005 was 4 million tonnes, 45% of which was produced by Germany, 15% by France, and 11% by Italy, followed by the United States (7%), Brazil and Argentina.

Ethanol, produced by distillation of sugar plants (sugar cane, sugar beets) or starchy plants (corn, maize…) and used in gas engines. The United States and Brazil produce 73% of the world’s total production of ethanol of 36 million tonnes. In Brazil, ethanol meets 40% of domestic energy needs for transport, where three-quarters of the new cars can operate equally well with either pure ethanol or gas.

Together, EMHV and ethanol provide 2.5% of global energy needs for transport.

Electricity is widely used for city (metro, tramway) and intercity rail (train) transport but very little for private vehicles (11,000 electric vehicles in service in Europe, of which 8,000 are in France). However, greater progress has been made in the development of hybrid models.

Transport increase

In 2007, 2.2 billion passengers globally travelled by air, a 6.6% increase from 2006 and 14.07% from 2005. La croissance du transport aérien Increased air travel est la plus forte dans les pays émergents, ainsi qu’en Afrique où elle a été de 9,9% en 2007.

In 2006, goods transport is also increasing across all regions of the world and all modes of transport. In the last ten years in Europe, goods transport by rail has increased 6%, while road freight haulage increased by 35%. Per tonne of goods transported over a similar distance, road transport consumes fifteen times more energy than train. Should also do comparisons with air freight – this has not been mentioned but must be in coverage of this topic. Seaways were used to transport 960 million tones of goods in which year, more than a third of which was crude oil and petrolium products. 40 million tonnes were transported by plane. OK, a brief mention of air transport here but not enough to do justice to the food miles debates.


The United States uses 40% of the world’s automobiles, with 240 million vehicles in circulation and 17 million new cars sold each year during the past 4 years. Europe had 216 million cars in circulation in 2004 with 12.45 million new cars sold during the first ten months of 2007. 66 million vehicles were in circulation in China in 2007 and production of new vehicles reached 8.8 million (+22% from 2006). The average United States automobilist consumes 1,637 litres of motor fuel in a year, the average European, 427 litres, Asian 50 litres, and someone living in Sub-Saharan Africa, 31 litres.

Energy efficiency

Different modes of transport have very different levels of energy demand. For the same journey, a passenger who regularly uses intercity trains would consume 60% more energy by travelling by bus, 380% more energy using a small-cylinder car, and 900% more energy if they flew on an average commercial airplane.

For goods transport, railway freight is by far the most energy efficient means of terrestrial transportation, although large-scale marine transport is the most energy efficient overall. In terms of tonnes transported per unit energy, railways are 2.5 times more efficient than fluvial transport are you sure about this – I have been led to believe fluvial transport is more efficient – you’ll see I’ve already added the section on marine transport above, four times more efficient than road transport over long distances, and 85 times more efficient than air freight transport.

Greenhouse effect

Oil combustion produces 42% of total global CO2 emissions. Emissions from cars, motorcycles and heavyweight transport account for approximately 40% I’m not sure I understand these two figures but the second one doesn’t seem right. Are you saying that cars etc account for 40% of the 42%, i.e. about 18%, in which case that seems rather low compared with earlier figures cited – if it’s all but 2% of the 42% that’s far too high – I advise to recheck figures here. Between 1990 and 2005, emissions due to transport increased by 32.1% and those due to other sectors of activity decreased by 9.5%. The strongest increases were in avation and marine transport, which grew by 90% and 50% respectively over the period. Overall, transport contributed to 33% of all European Union CO2 emissions in 2005, of which nearly 84% is attributable to road transport. CO2 emissions from the fluvial sector are 1.8 to 3.8 times lower than those from road transport.

According to studies published at the end of 2007 by journal Environmental Science and Technology, the marine sector could be responsible for 60,000 deaths annually caused by cardiopulmonary problems and pulmonary cancer. Europe, Eastern Asia and Southern Asia are the main regions affected. Considering the expected increase in marine transport, this premature annual mortality could increase by 40% starting in 2012.

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