Rail is about 10 times more energy-efficient than trucking, so shifting freight from trucks to rail can offer considerable energy savings.

  • Air transportation. The latest generation of airliners offers a 15–20 percent improvement in fuel efficiency.8 The newer airplanes, however, are likely to do little more than offset the additional fuel consumption caused by projected growth in air travel over the next several decades.

  • Long-term system-level improvements. Examples of system-level innovations that could substantially improve efficiency include the utilization of intelligent transportation systems to manage traffic flow; better land-use management; and greater application of information technology in place of commuting and long-distance business travel.

Industrial Sector

Estimates from independent studies using different approaches agree that the potential for cost-effective reduction in energy use by industry range from 14 to 22 percent—about 4.9 to 7.7 quads—by 2020, compared with current EIA reference case projections. Most of the gains will occur in energy-intensive industries, notably chemicals and petroleum, pulp and paper, iron and steel, and cement.9 Growth in the energy-efficient option of combined heat and power production is also likely to be significant. Beyond 2020, new technologies such as novel heat and power sources, new products and processes, and advances in recycling could bring about even greater gains in energy efficiency. Important progress might also come from adapting new technology (such as fuel cells for combined heat and power generation) and adopting alternative methods of operation (e.g., “on-demand” manufacturing).

  • Chemicals and petroleum. Technologies for improving energy efficiency include high-temperature reactors, corrosion-resistant metal- and ceramic-lined reactors, and sophisticated process controls. Cost-effective improvements in efficiency of 10–20 percent in petroleum refining by 2020 are possible.


Increases in passenger airliner efficiency will also benefit air freight transport.


Further details on the potential improvements in these industries can be found in Chapter 4 in Part 2 of this report and in the report of the America’s Energy Future Panel on Energy Efficiency Technologies (NAS-NAE-NRC, 2009c).

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