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Dan Sperling
Daniel Sperling
  • Founding Director, Institute of Transportation Studies
  • Distinguished Blue Planet Prize Professor of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science and Policy
Research Interests: Transportation and energy systems; transportation and energy policy

Daniel Sperling is Distinguished Blue Planet Prize Professor of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science and Policy and founding Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. The Institute is staffed by over 150 faculty, staff, and student researchers.

Professor Sperling has been a leader in elevating the role of sustainability in the transportation community and transportation research, and bringing science to policy. He was appointed to the “automotive engineering” seat on the California Air Resources Board by Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown for 16 years, until early 2023, where he oversaw policies and regulations on climate change, low carbon fuels and vehicles, and sustainable cities. In 2024 he was selected to be Secretary General (with Professor Giovanni Circella) of the World Conference on Transportation Research Society, in 2015-16 he served as Chair of the Transportation Research Board (National Academies) and in 2013 he served as Chair of the California Fuel Cell Partnership.

His many honors and awards include the Lifetime Achievement Award in Research and Education from the Council of University Transportation Centers, were induction into the National Academy of Engineering in 2022, the Roy Crum award, the most prestigious research award by the Transportation Research Board, the Blue Planet Prize for being “a pioneer in opening up new fields of study to create more efficient, low-carbon, and environmentally beneficial transportation systems,” in 2013, and the Heinz Award for his “achievements in the research of alternative transportation fuels and his responsibility for the adoption of cleaner transportation policies in California and across the United States” in 2010.

Dr. Sperling has led ITS-Davis to international prominence by building strong partnerships with industry, government, and the environmental community, integrating interdisciplinary research and education programs, and connecting research with public outreach and education. ITS-Davis is recognized as the leading university center in sustainable transportation in the world, including leading the US Department of Transportation National Center for Sustainable Transportation since 2013 (with USC, Georgia Tech, UC Riverside, University of Vermont, Cal-State LA, and Texas Southern as consortium partners); hosting centers on transport sustainability in Europe, India, and China; and hosting the World Conference on Transportation Research Society for 10 years (2024-2033).

Dr. Sperling is recognized as a leading international expert on transportation technology assessment, energy and environmental aspects of transportation, and transportation policy. He was co-director of the 2007 study that designed California’s landmark low carbon fuel standard, has testified 8 times to the US Congress, was the first chair of the “Future of Transportation” Council of the Davos World Economic Forum in 2008. He has presented 1000 talks in his career, including 10-15 keynote and “distinguished speaker” presentations per year in recent years.

He has authored or co-authored over 250 technical papers and 13 books, including Two Billion Cars (Oxford University Press, 2009) and Three Revolutions: Steering Automated, Shared and Electric Vehicles to a Better Future (Island Press, 2018), and was a lead author of the transportation chapter on the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.

He is a recent member of 16 National Academies committees on Climate Change, Energy Efficiency, Gasoline Taxes, Hydrogen, Transport in China, Biomass Fuels R&D, Sustainable Transportation, and Innovative Mobility Services. He was founding chair of standing committees for the U.S. Transportation Research Board on Alternative Transportation Fuels (1989-’96), and Sustainability and Transportation (2006-08).

He is the founding organizer of the premier conference on transportation and energy policy (at Asilomar Conference Center), bringing together leaders and experts from industry, government, academia, and the environmental community. He has served on many advisory committees and advises senior executives of many automotive and energy companies, environmental groups, and national governments, including recent review committees at three DOE national laboratories. He has been an invited contributor to Forbes and energy expert contributor to Wall Street Journal, widely cited in and op-ed contributor to New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times and others in recent years, has been interviewed many times on NPR radio, including Science Friday, Talk of the Nation, Marketplace, and Fresh Air, and in February 2009 he was featured on the Jon Stewart Daily Show.

Prior to obtaining his Ph.D. in Transportation Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley (with minors in Economics and Energy & Resources), Professor Sperling worked two years as an environmental planner for the US Environmental Protection Agency and two years as an urban planner in the Peace Corps in Honduras.  He has an undergraduate degree in engineering and urban planning from Cornell University.

View Professor Sperling’s full curriculum vitae.