Peer-reviewed article in Nature Energy

Moving beyond alternative fuel hype to decarbonize transportation

Noel Melton, Jonn Axsen & Daniel Sperling

February, 2016


  • 30 years of alternative fuel hype have failed to deliver sales
  • Public attention has jumped from one alternative fuel to the next since the 1980s
  • To decarbonize transportation, policymakers need better ways to assess technologies

Abstract: In the past three decades, government, industry and other stakeholders have repeatedly been swept up with the ‘fuel du jour’, claiming that a particular alternative fuel vehicle (AFV) technology can succeed in replacing conventional gasoline-powered vehicles. However, AFV technologies have experienced relatively little success, with fossil fuels still accounting for about 95% of global transport energy use. Here, using the US as a case study, we conduct a media analysis to show how society’s attention has skipped among AFV types between 1980 and 2013, including methanol, natural gas, plug-in electric, hybrid electric, hydrogen and biofuels. Although our results provide no indication as to whether hype ultimately has a net positive or negative impact on AFV innovation, we offer several recommendations that governments can follow to move past hype to support significant AFV adoption and displace fossil fuel use in the transportation sector.

This chart from the study shows how media attention skipped among numerous alternative fuel technologies between 1980 and 2013.

Full Citation: Melton, N., J. Axsen & D. Sperling. 2016. Moving beyond alternative fuel hype to decarbonize transportation. Nature Energy, 1, 16013.

To learn more about this research, please contact Noel Melton.

Other Research

Axsen, J., M. Wolinetz. 2021. Taxes, tolls and ZEV zones for climate: Synthesizing insights on effectiveness, efficiency, equity, acceptability and implementation. Energy Policy, 156. Learn More ➥

Melton, N., J. Axsen, & B. Moawad. 2020. Which plug-in electric vehicle policies are best? A multi-criteria evaluation framework applied to Canada. Energy Research & Social Science 64, 1-15. Learn More ➥

Melton, N., J. Axsen & S. Goldberg. 2017. Evaluating plug-in electric vehicle policies in the context of long-term greenhouse gas reduction goals: Comparing 10 Canadian provinces using the PEV policy report card. Energy Policy, 107, 381-393.

Bataille, C. & N. Melton. 2017. Energy efficiency and economic growth: A retrospective CGE analysis for Canada from 2002 to 2012Energy Economics, 64, 118-130.

Wolinetz & Axsen. 2017. How policy can build the plug-in electric vehicle market: Insights from the REspondent-based Preference And Constraints (REPAC) model. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 117: 238-250. Learn More ➥

Melton, N., J. Axsen & D. Sperling. 2016. Moving beyond alternative fuel hype to decarbonize transportationNature Energy, 1, 16013. Learn More ➥

Bataille, C., N. Melton & M. Jaccard. 2015. Policy uncertainty and diffusion of carbon capture and storage in an optimal region. Climate Policy, 15(5): 565-582.

Jaccard, M., N. Melton & J. Nyboer. 2011. Institutions and Processes for Scaling Up Renewables: Run-of-River Hydropower in British Columbia. Energy Policy, 39(7): 4042-4050.

Peters, J., C. Bataille, N. Rivers, & M. Jaccard. 2010. Taxing Emissions, Not Income: How to Moderate the Regional Impact of Federal Environment Policy. C.D. Howe Institute, 314: Toronto, ON.