Skip to main content

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The future of vehicles powered by alternative fuels may hinge on work being done by a team of scientists and economists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee.

It is a “chicken or egg problem,” ORNL scientist Paul Leiby said Monday.

Consumers won’t buy a vehicle if fuel is scarce, but retailers are reluctant to sell the alternative fuel because there are so few vehicles to use it, Leiby said.

With that dilemma in mind, ORNL and UT-Knoxville are developing a formula to determine what, if any, legislation is needed to create a self-sufficient industry of vehicles powered by electricity, natural gas and methanol.

“The main issue is how investment today would lower future costs,” said Dr. Jonathan Rubin, a UT economist. “Government policies that encourage investment today may be able to get the industry to a state where it would be self-sufficient without needing any government support.”

The UT-ORNL team will base its projections on factors such as consumer attitudes, new technologies and government investments.

The project stems from the 1992 Energy Policy Act, which ordered the U.S. Department of Energy to look at the development of alternative-fuel vehicles. Some industries and agencies will be required to power at least 20 percent of their vehicle fleets with alternative fuels by 2010.

Contact: Dr. Jonathan Rubin (615-974-4251)

Paul Leiby (615-574-7720)