Transport accounts for almost a third of the world’s final energy consumption. Energy use in transport is expected to grow by 38% from 2010 to 2030, slightly faster than total energy use, according to one International Energy Agency (IEA) scenario. Moderating this growth is clearly of critical importance in ensuring future energy security and reducing the levels of climate change (the IEA thinks growth to 2035 could be reduced to 17%).

Designing the world’s rapidly growing cities to provide low carbon infrastructure and to encourage the use of low impact transport modes, such as walking or cycling, are critical as urbanisation is accelerating.  There are also major opportunities to improve energy efficiency across all transport sectors, the main ones being road transport, which accounts for 73% of transport energy (52% light duty vehicles, 17% trucks, 4% buses), aviation (10%), marine (10%) and rail (7%).  It is expected that carbon emissions will be reduced in the future by switching to hybrid and electrically powered vehicles and to 3rd generation biofuels. But these switches will only be effective if electricity supply is sufficiently decarbonised and emissions are minimised over the whole life cycle from cradle to grave.

Research in Oxford

An orange escooter
E-bikes or scooters have become ubiquitous in many cities

Oxford is engaged with all these issues, from the design of better infrastructure, through fostering moves to low impact transport, improving the efficiency of engines, designing lighter weight materials for cars and aircraft, developing novel electric engines (wide scale deployment of electric vehicles will have major  implications for the electricity transmission).

Transport in Cities

Cities based research in Oxford has involved scenario analysis using novel backcasting techniques to establish alternative futures and to devise policy packages that will achieve significant reductions in energy consumption and carbon emissions. A simulation model has been developed to test alternative interventions, and this has been supplemented by an evaluation model – applications include London, Oxfordshire, Delhi, Auckland and Jinan. Economic measures are being developed through a partnership with the Asian Development Bank and the IEA to explore the potential for fuel security credits that would allow a small premium on fuel in richer countries to be used to invest in clean infrastructure in Asian cities. The approach has been tested in a range of cities as a series of pilot projects.

As part of the Oxford Martin School’s Institute for Carbon and Energy Reduction in Transport (ICERT) research, a model has been developed that combines a technical module looking at different technologies and fuels, with a market module and a diffusion module to determine the take up of new technologies. The model can explore different technological futures over a series of time periods, looking at different incentive structures, pricing strategies and how the different market segments might adopt hybrid, electric and other technologies. This research will be further developed through major new projects on complexity and on innovation and energy demand.

Lower carbon transport technologies

Drive trains

Research on power trains for electric and hydrogen vehicles led to the Morgan LifeCar (the first ever Hydrogen sports car).  Further research has led to the development of an advanced software tool, OVEM (Oxford VEhicles Model), which is being used to explore the synergies between the components of new power train configurations.

Internal combustion engines

Physicists and engineers, in collaboration with Jaguar Land Rover, BP and Shell, have developed new techniques to measure the temperature inside combustion chambers which are being used to improve the design of the next generation of engines and fuels, including biofuels (see Bioenergy, which also describes work on the role of biofuels in transport). New high temperature lightweight alloys for piston and related applications are also being developed.

Components for the more electric vehicle

Oxford engineers continue to develop high-efficiency low-weight motors using new materials and heat transfer techniques. An early success is being taken forward by a spin-out company (Yasa Motors).  On-going work includes the research into novel electrical machines that do not contain permanent magnets, and development of novel lightweight polymer-based nanocomposites power capacitors for the more-electric aircraft.

A rigorous research programme on the understanding of the degradation pathways of both batteries (see Storage) and electric motors, will enable lighter, longer life components, by pushing the limit of performance without compromising life expectancy.

Control and driving practices

Engineers are working with Ferrari on the control systems needed to meet the improvement in fuel efficiency of around one third required in 2014 (through improved energy recovery and advanced turbo charging) without compromising performance – an improvement which should eventually be passed down to mass production cars. Machine learning techniques are being developed to improve the energy efficiency of autonomous electric vehicles.

Aero engines

The Department of Engineering Science houses the Rolls-Royce University Technology Centre for turbomachinery, and another for solid mechanics – both contributing to current and future designs of world-beating civil aircraft engines. There is also related work for turbomachinery involving Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, as well as research programmes in the Department of Materials for the development of new high temperature materials  and components to enable clean and more efficient combustion.


There is a consensus that green ammonia will be the most suitable zero-carbon marine fuel for long-distance shipping as it offers a favourable balance between heating value, energy density, and cost of storage.

The global shipping sector is a complex sector with over 80% of goods being transported by sea at some point during their lifecycle. There are significant issues with decarbonising such a vast industry with some journeys being too far, and batteries being too heavy, to rely on electrification. Ships need a robust power source capable of coping with bad weather conditions and unexpected circumstances. This power source needs to be global. It is widely recognised that transitioning to green ammonia would overcome these challenges. The Agile Initiative at the Oxford Martin School aims to combine scientists and policymakers to ensure a unified approach to advancing research into green ammonia and supporting ways to prevent environmental degradation.

OXGATE research group is a collaboration between Chemistry and Engineering Science. Work includes catalyst development, prototyping, process design, and energy systems modelling related to green hydrogen and ammonia.

OPSIS support this work with studies of shipping, road and rail networks, using their expertise to employ large transport datasets to build very large scale models of transport systems globally to understand supply chains and the potential risks to transport networks.