The United States is a nation on the move. About 27% of total U.S. energy consumption in 2022 was for transporting people and goods from one place to another.1
There are four major categories of transportation energy sources
The major transportation energy sources used in the United States are:
- Petroleum products made from crude oil and from natural gas processing, including motor and aviation gasoline, distillate fuels (mostly diesel fuel), jet fuel, residual fuel oil, and propane
- Natural gas
- Electricity produced from many different energy sources
The types and uses of transportation energy sources include:
- Motor gasoline is used in cars, motorcycles, light trucks, and boats. Aviation gasoline is used in many types of airplanes.
- Distillate fuels are used mainly by trucks, buses, and trains and in boats and ships.
- Jet fuel is used in jet airplanes and some types of helicopters.
- Residual fuel oil is used in ships.
- Biofuels may be blended into gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel.
- Natural gas is used to operate compressors to move natural gas in pipelines. Compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas are used in cars, buses, trucks, and ships. Most of the vehicles that use natural gas are in government and private vehicle fleets.
- Propane (a hydrocarbon gas liquid) is used in cars, buses, and trucks. Most of the vehicles that use propane are in government and private vehicle fleets.
- Electricity is used by public mass transit systems and by electric vehicles.
Petroleum is the main U.S. transportation energy source
In 2022, petroleum products accounted for about 90% of total U.S. transportation sector energy use. Biofuels contributed about 6%, most of which were blended with petroleum fuels (gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel). Natural gas accounted for about 5%, and nearly all was used as a fuel for natural gas pipeline compressors. Electricity use by mass transit systems was less than 1% of total energy consumption by the transportation sector. Electricity use for charging electric vehicles was relatively small in 2022 but is expected to increase.2
Gasoline is the dominant U.S. transportation fuel
Gasoline is the dominant transportation fuel in the United States, followed by distillate fuels (mostly diesel fuel) and jet fuel. Gasoline includes motor gasoline and aviation gasoline. On an energy content basis, gasoline (excluding fuel ethanol) accounted for 52% of total energy consumption by the U.S. transportation sector in 2022. Distillate fuels, mostly diesel (excluding biofuels blended with diesel), accounted for 23%, and jet fuel accounted for 12%.
U.S. gasoline consumption for transportation has increased even though overall fuel economy in cars and light trucks has improved
The national average fuel economy for light-duty vehicles (passenger cars, pickup trucks, vans, sport utility vehicles, and crossover vehicles) has improved over time mainly because of the fuel economy standards the federal government established for those types of vehicles. However, total motor gasoline consumption for transportation generally increased after fuel economy standards were set because of increases in the number of vehicles in use and in the number of miles traveled per vehicle. The increase in vehicles was primarily light pickup trucks, minivans, sport utility vehicles, and crossover vehicles, which have lower fuel economy than many passenger cars.
Biofuels are added to petroleum fuels
Ethanol and biodiesel were some of the first automobile fuels, but they were replaced by gasoline and diesel fuel made from crude oil by the early 1900's. Today, most of the motor gasoline sold in the United States contains up to 10% ethanol by volume. Most biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel is blended with petroleum diesel. In 2022, total biofuels consumption accounted for about 6% of total U.S. transportation sector energy consumption. Ethanol's share was about 4%, and the share of biodiesel, renewable diesel, and other biofuels combinded was about 2%.1
Light-duty vehicles account for about 53% of total U.S. transportation energy use
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.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that light-duty vehicles—cars, light trucks, and motorcycles—account for the largest share of total U.S. transportation sector energy consumption.2
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review, Tables 2.1b, 2.5, 3.7c, 3.8c, 10.2c, 10.3, and 10.4 (a, b, and c), May 2023, preliminary data for 2022.
2 Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2023, Table 35, February 2023.