Life Cycle Analysis of Alternative Fuels for Trains, Planes, and Ships

Focus Area



Air Quality




Over $750k



Research Idea Scope

Problem Statement
The life cycle analysis (LCA) of transportation fuels is a critical step when comparing the energy and environmental attributes of conventional and alternative fuels. LCA accounts for the energy use and environmental impacts that occur during the production, transportation, distribution, and use of different fuels. LCA tools allow analysts and decision makers to evaluate more completely the impacts of using conventional fuels, biofuels, and electric vehicles, to name a few.
Most LCA tools to date have focused on applications in the light-duty vehicle (LDV) sector. With only a few exceptions, LCA has ignored other modes (such as trucks, trains, ships, and planes). Yet these modes are gaining prominence in our transportation emissions inventories, and fuel consumption in these modes is likely to grow faster than in the LDV sector in the coming decades. In addition, alternative fuel markets have extended beyond the LDV sector; for example, biofuels, electric power, natural gas, and other alternative fuels are now being considered and used for air, rail, and water transport.
This project will design and develop a suite of LCA models that can be used to evaluate life cycle energy and emissions for conventional and alternative fuels used for non-LDV modes of transport. The project entails:
·      Reviewing LCA models previously developed for LDVs (e.g., the Greenhouse Gas and Regulated Emissions and Energy Use in Transportation [GREET] model);
·      Reviewing LCA models previously developed for non-LDV modes (e.g., the Total Energy and Emissions Analysis for Marine Systems [TEAMS] model, and the Lifecycle Emissions Model [LEM] which includes rail and marine modes);
·      Identifying gaps in the availability of tools for non-LDV modes;
·      Building non-LDV modules or stand-alone LCA tools to evaluate energy use and emissions from fuels used in non-LDV modes. The LCA tools should account for regional variations (and appropriate regional aggregations) with respect to fuel-cycle analysis;
·      Conducting analyses using these LCA tools to evaluate alternative fuel options for non-LDV modes;
·      The life cycle analysis should cover the fuels specific to the end use and their performance in the vehicle. Can the existing engine technologies use the alternative fuels? Safety and engine durability issues involved with switching fuels, especially in shipping, should be covered.
Related Work
Wang, M. Q., Development and Use of the GREET Model to Estimate Fuel-Cycle Energy Use and Emissions of Various Transportation Technologies and Fuels, Center for Transportation Research, Energy Systems Division: Argonne, Illinois, 1996.
Wang, Michael, “Fuel Cycle Analysis of Conventional and Alternative Fuel Vehicles,” Encyclopedia of Energy, 2004, pp. 771-789.
Corbett, James J. and James J. Winebrake, “Emissions Tradeoffs among Alternate Marine Fuels: Total Fuel Cycle Analysis of Residual Oil, Marine Gas Oil, and Marine Diesel Oil,” Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association, 58(4), April 2008, pp.1-5.
Winebrake, James J., James J. Corbett, and Patrick E. Meyer, “Energy Use and Emissions from Marine Vessels: A Total Fuel Cycle Approach,” Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association, 57(1), January, 2007, pp. 102-110.
Urgency/PriorityThe proposed research will provide tools necessary for conducting analyses of conventional and alternative fuels in non-LDV modes. Given the role of the non-LDV sectors in overall energy use and emissions inventories, this project should receive high priority.

Urgency and Payoff

The desired project outcome is a set of LCA models (either integrated or stand alone), that can be used to evaluate the total fuel cycle energy use and emissions impacts associated with using conventional and alternative fuels in planes, trains, trucks, and ships (i.e., non-LDV modes).
This research will help inform key decision making related to non-LDV modes, such as new policies to incentivize alternative fuel use for trucks, trains, ships, and planes.

Suggested By

RNS. Sponsoring Committee: A0020T, Special Task Force on Climate Change and Energy Source Info: Special Task Force on Climate Change and Energy January 2010 Workshop