Environmental assessment of passenger transportation should include infrastructure and supply chains

Mikhail V. Chester, Arpad Horvath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

374 Scopus citations


To appropriately mitigate environmental impacts from transportation, it is necessary for decision makers to consider the life-cycle energy use and emissions. Most current decision-making relies on analysis at the tailpipe, ignoring vehicle production, infrastructure provision, and fuel production required for support. We present results of a comprehensive life-cycle energy, greenhouse gas emissions, and selected criteria air pollutant emissions inventory for automobiles, buses, trains, and airplanes in the US, including vehicles, infrastructure, fuel production, and supply chains. We find that total life-cycle energy inputs and greenhouse gas emissions contribute an additional 63% for onroad, 155% for rail, and 31% for air systems over vehicle tailpipe operation. Inventorying criteria air pollutants shows that vehicle non-operational components often dominate total emissions. Life-cycle criteria air pollutant emissions are between 1.1 and 800 times larger than vehicle operation. Ranges in passenger occupancy can easily change the relative performance of modes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number024008
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Aircraft
  • Autos
  • Buses
  • Cars
  • Criteria air pollutants
  • Emissions
  • Energy
  • Fuel
  • Greenhouse gas
  • Life-cycle assessment
  • Passenger transportation
  • Planes
  • Rail
  • Trains

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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