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Collaborative Research: Implications of Greenhouse Gas Policy Instruments on Material Flows - A Life Cycle Approach Integrating Engineering, Public Policy and Market Behavior



Major industrialized countries around the world and several U.S. states are currently designing, or considering designing, policy instruments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Proposed policy instruments for GHG emissions almost always include targets for the transportation sector, which is unsurprising given that the sector already comprises about 1/3 of U.S. GHG emissions and this share is growing. GHG emissions reduction from the transportation sector would significantly affect the design and materials use of passenger cars and light trucks. However, we currently lack analytical tools and models for decision-makers to understand a priori the impacts of policy proposals on materials flows.

The overarching goal of this MUSES project is therefore to produce modeling tools and methods that can be used to analyze changes in materials flows that would result from policy instruments aimed at reducing GHG emissions from passenger cars and light trucks. We will achieve this goal by building and validating a set of linked models that account for producer and consumer behavioral responses to GHG reduction policies, and integrating these forecasted market responses into a novel framework for predictive life cycle and material flow analyses (LCA/MFA). Our major tasks will be: 1) to model vehicle design options and materials use for their costs and performance; 2) to evaluate the market penetration of these options by modeling their performance in the context of market-based and regulatory policy instruments, producer objectives, and consumer preferences; and, 3) to evaluate the consequences of market responses on global materials flows and life cycle emissions.

The outcome for society of this project will be the integration of these tasks into a metasystems model serving as the engine for a decision-making tool called CAPA: the Computational Automotive Policy Analysis framework. CAPA is a cyberinfrastructure for linking models of producer objectives, costs, vehicle design performance, and consumer preference together with LCA/MFA models. To focus the research scope, we will apply CAPA to reveal relationships between proposed GHG policies and the flows of key materials demanded by hybrid-electric powertrains and lightweighting strategies (e.g., Ni, Al, and steel).

The proposed research represents a new interface between engineering design, applied economics, social research, public policy, and sustainable development. The scientific impact will derive from the formulation of techniques, methods, and models in each of these disciplines that will help us understand the relationships between technology policy, technology adoption, and unintended environmental and materials flows consequences. Scientific impact will also arise from how these tasks are holistically integrated into an interdisciplinary meta-system. The intellectual merit of this proposal is derived in part from 1) the development of a game theoretic meta-systems model of the automotive industry, 2) mathematical analysis methods to understand the relationships between market interventions and (Nash) equilibrium engineering designs, 3) the application of optimal control theory methods in the design of public policy instruments; and 4) the development of predictive and dynamic life cycle assessment and materials flows analysis methods.

The broader impact of this proposal is derived in part from CAPA, which will allow analysts to optimize technology and policy decisions with respect to costs, market acceptance, materials flows, and environmental impacts. The economic approach to predictive LCA/MFA and the concept of utilizing control theory for environmental policy optimization are also powerful and novel ideas with a strong potential for broader impact beyond this proposal. Although our project focuses on U.S. transportation markets, the models will reflect global materials flows, and the methodologies that we develop will be applicable globally and have global significance. To facilitate the global diffusion of these methods, and to provide an international perspective on this research, we have established an International Review Panel.

The educational impact of this proposal will be significant through the integration of this project with undergraduate and graduate courses and curricula. We will propose a supplemental REU with international components and the project will be a cornerstone to facilitate the launch of new graduate degree programs at RIT and UM. In addition, we include an educational component aimed at deaf and hard-of-hearing students. The research team is tightly integrated and contains nine investigators with diverse and synergistic backgrounds. The team representing The University of Michigan, Rochester Institute of Technology, The University of California at Berkeley, and Northeastern University has been working together for 12 months with the support of a MUSES Planning Grant. The team will receive regular feedback from an External Advisory Board of 12 automotive, policy, and materials experts representing government, NGOs, and industry.

Automotive Suppliers
National Science Foundation (NSF)
Research Areas
Urban Systems and Built Environment