Quantifying Vehicle Waste Heat: A Case Study of Phoenix, Arizona


Mitigation of urban heat islands has become a goal for research and policy as urban environmental heat is a rapidly growing concern. Urban regions such as Phoenix, AZ are facing

Mitigation of urban heat islands has become a goal for research and policy as urban environmental heat is a rapidly growing concern. Urban regions such as Phoenix, AZ are facing projected warming as urban populations grow and global climates warm (McCarthy et al. 2010), and severe urban heat can even lead to human mortality and morbidity (Berko et al. 2014). Increased urban heat may also have social and economic consequences such as by discouraging physical activity, reducing outdoor accessibility, and decreasing economic output (Stamatakis et al. 2013; Karner et al. 2015; Obradovich & Fowler 2017; Kjellstrom et al. 2009). Urban heat islands have been well documented in academic literature (Oke 1982; Arnfield 2003), and anthropogenic waste heat is often a major factor. The American Meteorological Society (2012) has said that anthropogenic waste heat may contribute “15 – 50 W/m2 to the local heat balance, and several hundred W/m2 in the center of large cities in cold climates and industrial areas.”

Anthropogenic waste heat from urban vehicle travel may be a notable contributor to the urban heat balance and the urban heat island effect, but little research has quantified and explored how changes in vehicle travel may influence local climates. Even with recent rapid improvements to engine efficiencies, modern automobiles still convert small amounts of fuel to useful energy. Typically, around two-thirds of energy from fuel in internal combustion engine vehicles is lost as waste heat through exhaust and coolant (Hsiao et al. 2010; Yu & Chau 2009; Saidur et al. 2009; Endo et al. 2007), and as much as 80% of fuel energy can be lost to waste heat under poor conditions (Orr et al. 2016). In addition, combustion of fuel generates water vapor and air pollution which may also affect the urban climate. Figure 1 displays where a typical combustion engine’s fuel energy is used and lost. There has been little research that quantifies the influence of vehicle travel on urban anthropogenic waste heat. According to Sailor and Lu (2004), most cities have peak anthropogenic waste heat values between 30 and 60 W m-2 (averaged across city) and heating from vehicles could make up as much as 62% of the total in summer months. Additionally, they found that vehicle waste heat could account for up to 300 W m-2 during rush hours over freeways. In another study, Hart & Sailor (2009) used in situ measurements in Portland, OR to evaluate spatial variability of air temperatures on urban roadways. They found that air masses near major roadways are some of the warmest in the region. Although some of the warming is attributed to pavement characteristics (imperviousness, low albedo), an average increase of 1.3 C was observed on weekdays relative to weekends along roadways. The authors offer increased weekday traffic density and building use as the likely contributors to this discrepancy. These previous studies indicates that vehicle related waste heat could be an important consideration in the urban energy balance. If significant, there may exist viable strategies to reduce anthropogenic waste heat from urban vehicle travel by increasing the fleet fuel economy and shifting to electric vehicles. This could offer cooling in urban areas around roadways were pedestrians are often found. Figure 2 visually demonstrates waste heat from vehicles (including an electric vehicle) in two thermal images.