China, U.S.: Two Paths on EVs, Fuels

A classic contest is playing out in the development of new modes of transportation: On one side the globe, the United States pursues a generally market-led approach to alternative vehicles and fuels, with limited government support spread broadly into research and development. On the other side, China funnels more substantial state investment in a narrower direction, aiming to put to work proven new technologies to help it quickly achieve significant emissions reductions.

This is the basis for a new Accenture analysis of two of the world’s great economic powers as they move beyond the century-old internal combustion engine.  A result of the differing approaches, the consulting company said, is that China is likely to race ahead in ramping up alternative vehicles and fuels.

The US and China: the race to disruptive transport technologies, Accenture

image via Accenture

But if that sounds bad for the United States, there’s a second part to Accenture’s vision: “The US’ market led-approach will result in a more gradual development of new technologies,” it said. “However, it will be better placed to create new innovations across many platforms (advanced combustion engines, electric and advanced biofuels) that can be integrated into the existing fuel supply infrastructure.”

Accenture noted the different natural resources each country can claim, and said those will be big factors in how the transportation future plays out. China has a big advantage with its lithium reserve – enough, Accenture said, “to support China’s power battery needs for 450 million electric vehicles.” U.S. advantages are in natural gas and agriculture.

But perhaps more than anything, Accenture says, the United States has a structure that encourages private companies to invest in and develop “completely new” technologies – with its advanced biotechnology industry, for instance, is it likely to push ahead successfully on biomass-based fuels, Accenture said.

The full report, “The US and China: the race to disruptive transport technologies,” is available here.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.