Two-thirds of the petroleum consumed in transportation is used in on-road vehicles, Mr. Davis added. There now are 240 million vehicles on U.S. roads. An average of 15.7 million new cars and light trucks were added annually from 2002 through 2007, while 13 million such vehicles were taken out of the market.

This data suggests it will take a long time for electric vehicles to make a national impact. “It takes time for a new technology to take over a market,” he said. “And after you have achieved maximum market share, it takes a lot longer than that to essentially replace the vehicles that are already on the road. If you are trying to realize maximum benefit from a new technology introduced today, it takes three or four decades to get to that point. Petroleum is a very serious problem, but it takes time to solve.”

Transportation accounts for about one-third of greenhouse gas emission, Mr. Davis noted. Over the past year, the DOE has developed projections of emissions for different kinds of vehicles through 2030. The aim is to look at “what types of vehicles produce what kind of benefits in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum,” he said.

The vehicles roughly fall into three categories, he said. The first group of vehicles uses conventional technologies and some hybrids. They emit an average of 430 grams of CO2 equivalent per mile. The middle group of vehicles includes plug-in hybrids or that are advanced but run on conventional fuels. They emit less than half the CO2, between 150 and 200 grams per mile. The last group consists of electric-drive vehicles or ones using renewable fuels such as hydrogen. Emissions in that group range from around 50 grams to 130 grams. “Those are the only cases that really achieve drastic reductions,” Mr. Davis said. “So electric drive is very important to solving those overarching problems.”

In terms of budget, the DOE has significant ongoing activities in electric vehicles that go beyond the programs funded by the Recovery Act, Mr. Davis explained. It has a $101 million budget in Fiscal Year 2010 for R&D in batteries and electric-drive technology—with $75 million of that focusing on batteries. The request for FY 2011 is for $121 million. Of that, three-quarters is to be dedicated to batteries. The DOE also has a $44 million program for vehicle and system simulations and testing, $57 million for research on combustion, $51 million for materials research, and $24 million for fuels technology. In addition, the DOE also has a $33 million budget for deploying technologies.

In all, half of the DoE’s annual budget for vehicle research is devoted to electric-drive technologies “of one kind or another,” Mr. Davis said. What’s more, the agency’s Vehicle Technologies Program has seen its annual budget increase by 50 percent since 2008.

These are only some of DOE programs, however. The Recovery Act allocated $2.8 billion to advancing electric vehicles, Mr. Davis noted, with about $1.5 billion of that dedicated to batteries. The Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program has included awards that involve electric drive, he said. Other critical work at the DOE includes programs by the Office of Science, ARPA-E, and the Office of Electricity.

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