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The United States is a country on the move. So, you’d think the transportation sector’s energy use would be a significant portion of the U.S. overall energy consumption. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that road and airline traffic have increased steadily since about 2010. Recent increases in truck and freight shipping also contribute to demand for transportation fuels. But is transportation energy consumption as high as you’d think?

Survey Question: What percentage of the U.S. overall energy consumption is used for transportation?

Student Answers:

  • 10-15 percent (5%)
  • 25-30 percent (34%) [CORRECT]
  • 40-45 percent (33%)
  • 55-60 percent (22%)
  • 70-75 percent (6%)


Infographic - Transportation Fuels in Overall Energy Consumption

As new drivers, high school seniors think about the importance of transportation fuels. Thirty four percent of the national survey participants demonstrated awareness of demand for these fuels by answering this survey question correctly. However, a slightly smaller thirty three percent believed transportation sector energy use to be larger than it is. This indicates is a small knowledge gap now, which will increase in the future as overall use of transportation fuels is not projected to continue its rise.

U.S. Energy Consumption and Transportation Fuels

In 2017, drivers in the U.S. used almost 400 million gallons of motor gasoline daily, making gasoline the most widely used transportation fuel.  Distillate fuels (mostly diesel) are the second largest category, followed by petroleum used as jet fuel. Biofuels, natural gas, propane and electricity are used less commonly as transportation fuels. Nevertheless, they are important. Natural gas, biodiesel and electricity can lower emissions and provide energy security and economic benefits as domestically produced energy sources.

Increases in fuel economy standards are beginning to slow motor gasoline consumption. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects a potential 31 percent decrease between 2017 and 2050. New cars, SUVs and trucks use nearly 20 percent less gas on average than those purchased a decade ago. The types of transportation fuels that we use will also change. With a growth in sales of electric vehicles, electricity will take a larger role in the future.

The transportation sector’s energy consumption  is complex and ever-changing. However, with the average U.S. household spending just under $2,000 on gasoline in 2017 and transportation accounting for around one-third of our total greenhouse gas emissions, the need for student education on this topic is crucial.

During the 2016-2017 school year, NEF launched an unprecedented initiative call the National Energy Literacy Survey. The energy survey measured high school students’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. For more information regarding the National Energy Literacy Survey please reach out to [email protected]

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