Daniel Sperling

Daniel Sperling

Position Title
Distinguished Blue Planet Prize Professor & Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies

  • Civil and Environmental Engineering
1715 Tilia UC Davis West Village


Daniel Sperling is Distinguished Blue Planet Prize Professor of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science and Policy, founding Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS-Davis), and founding chair of the Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and Economy at the University of California, Davis. ITS-Davis is staffed by almost 200 faculty, staff, and student researchers. He was Interim Director of the UC Davis Energy Efficiency Center from 2008-10, and the UC Davis Energy Institute from 2013-15.

Professor Sperling has been a leader in elevating the role of sustainability in the transportation community and bringing science to policy. In 2024 he was selected to be Secretary General (with Professor Giovanni Circella) of the World Conference on Transportation Research Society, 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 2015-16 he served as Chair of the Transportation Research Board (National Academies); in 2013 he served as Chair of the California Fuel Cell Partnership; and in 2008 he was appointed the first chair of the “Future of Transportation” Council of the Davos World Economic Forum.

He has received many awards, including:

  • Lifetime Achievement in Research and Education by the US Council of University Transportation Centers (2024)
  • National Academy of Engineers (2022)
  • Roy Crum award for research and service (2018) by the Transportation Research Board (National Academies)
  • Thomas Deen Distinguished Lectureship (2015) by TRB
  • Blue Planet Prize (2013) for being “a pioneer in opening up new fields of study to create more efficient, low-carbon, and environmentally beneficial transportation systems”
  • Heinz Award  (2010) 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.”

Other awards include the 2009 Robert Zweig Public Education Award of the National Hydrogen Association, 2008 Barry McNutt TRB Award for Best Paper in Energy, and 2002 Carl Moyer Memorial Award for Scientific Leadership and Technical Excellence by the Coalition for Clean Air.

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 (with Prof Alex Farrell) of the 2007 study that designed California’s landmark Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which has also been adopted with some adjustments by Oregon, Washington, and Canada. He has testified 8 times to the US Congress and 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).

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 policy. ITS-Davis is recognized as the leading university center in the world for sustainable transportation, with centers in China, Europe, and India, and has hosted the prestigious US Department of Transportation National Center for Sustainable Transportation since 2013 (with USC, Georgia Tech, UC Riverside, University of Vermont, and Cal-State LA as consortium partners).

ITS-Davis won Forth’s 2019 Roadmap Award for Research for “an organization that has produced compelling research that will significantly advance electric, smart and shared mobility”; the 2006 Robert M. Zweig Public Education Award of the National Hydrogen Association, 2005 TRANNY award for Organization of the Year by the California Transportation Foundation, and 1998 Employer of the Year Award of the Women’s Transportation Seminar of Sacramento.

Among Professor Sperling’s other prominent accomplishments and activities are lead author of the transportation chapter for the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore, and member of 16 National Academies study committees on Climate Change, Energy Efficiency, Gasoline Taxes, Hydrogen, Transport in China, Biomass Fuels R&D, Sustainable Transportation, and Innovative Mobility Services. He was also founding chair of two standing committees for the U.S. Transportation Research Board: 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 serves 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, The Conversation, 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.

Honors and Awards
  • 2024: Lifetime Achievement Award for Research and Education by Council of University Transportation Centers
  • 2022: Inducted into National Academy of Engineering
  • 2020: Senior Fellow, California Council on Science and Technology
  • 2019: Forth's Roadmap Award for Research, ITS-Davis for “an individual or an organization that has produced compelling research that will significantly advance electric, smart and shared mobility"
  • 2018: Roy W. Crum award, Transportation Research Board (highest research award)
  • 2015: Thomas B. Deen Distinguished Lectureship, Transportation Research Board
  • 2014: Council Member, California Council on Science and Technology
  • 2013: Blue Planet Prize
  • 2010: Heinz Award for “Achievements in research of transportation fuels”
  • 2009: Robert M. Zweig Public Education Award of the National Hydrogen Association
  • 2008: Barry McNutt TRB Award for Best Paper in Energy (Jonathan Hughes, Chris Knittel, D. Sperling)
  • 2006: TRANNY award for Organization of the Year, California Trans. Foundation (on behalf of ITS-Davis)
  • 2004: National Associate, National Academies
  • 2002: Carl Moyer Memorial Award for Scientific Leadership and Tech. Excellence, Coalition for Clean Air