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Energy Use for Transportation

The United States is a nation on the move. About 28% of all the energy people in the United States consume goes to transporting people and goods from one place to another.

Petroleum is the main source of energy for transportation

Petroleum fuels are made from crude oil and liquids from natural gas processing. The petroleum fuels used for transportation include gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, residual fuel oil, and liquid petroleum gases. In 2014, those fuels provided about 92% of the total energy used by the transportation sector in the United States. Biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, contributed about 5% of the total energy used by the transportation sector, and natural gas contributed about 3%1. Electricity provided less than 1% of the total energy used.

Gasoline is the most commonly used U.S. transportation fuel

Gasoline is the dominant transportation fuel used in the United States. Gasoline (excluding fuel ethanol) accounted for 56% of total U.S. transportation energy use in 2014. When the ethanol that is blended into finished motor gasoline is included, gasoline's share was about 60%. Gasoline (including fuel ethanol) consumption for transportation averaged about 8.8 million barrels (368 million gallons) per day. About 7 million gallons per day of gasoline were consumed for uses other than for transportation. Gasoline is used mainly in cars, motorcycles, and light trucks. Diesel fuel (or distillate fuel) is used mainly by heavy trucks, buses, and trains. Kerosene is used in jet airplanes, and residual fuel oil is used in ships. Natural gas and liquid petroleum gas are used in all types of vehicles, but they are used predominantly in heavy duty vehicles such as buses and other large transportation vehicles. Most of the electricity used for transportation is used by public mass transit systems.

Biofuels are added to petroleum fuels

Ethanol and biodiesel were actually some of the first fuels used in automobiles, but they were replaced by gasoline and diesel fuel. Today, most of the biofuels used in vehicles are added to gasoline and diesel fuel. Government incentives and mandates contributed to large increases in the use of biofuels in the United States over the past several decades. The amount of fuel ethanol added to motor gasoline consumed for transportation went from about 1 billion gallons in 1995 to about 13 billion gallons in 2014. Biodiesel consumption increased from 10 million gallons in 2001 to about 1.4 billion gallons in 2014.

1 Includes natural gas consumption by compressors on natural gas pipelines.

Last updated: July 17, 2015

Image of the types of vehicles that use energy and how much they use. The different vehicles using energy include cars, light trucks, other trucks, aircraft, ships and barges, pipelines, trains, rail and buses. Cars use 27% of transportation energy, light trucks use 30%, other trucks use 23%, aircraft use 7%, ships and boats use 4%,  trains and buses use 3%, military uses total 3%, pipeline fuel 3%, and lubricants <1%.
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Cars, vans, and buses are commonly used to transport people. Trucks, airplanes, and trains are used to move people and freight. Barges and pipelines move freight or bulk quantities of materials.

Light trucks, cars, and motorcycles use about 57% of the total amount of energy consumed for transportation in the United States. Large trucks use about 23% of the total amount of energy consumed for transportation, planes use about 7%, boats and ships use about 4%, trains and buses use about 3%, and pipelines use about 3%. The military uses about 3% of the total amount of energy consumed for transportation.

U.S. transportation energy use has increased despite fuel economy improvements in cars and light trucks

The national average fuel economy for passenger cars and for light trucks has improved over time mainly because of fuel economy standards set by the federal government for those types of vehicles. However, total transportation fuel consumption has generally increased because of an increase in the number of vehicles (especially light pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles, and heavy duty freight trucks). Fuel consumption has generally increased because of the number of miles traveled per vehicle.

Last updated: September 23, 2015