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Entire Life Cycle of Vehicles Has Major Impact On Environment

June 9, 2009

Planes, trains and automobiles have a bigger effect on the environment beyond the fumes they emit. Researchers have created a new framework to calculate the true environmental cost of travel that accounts for every process, from generating energy to keep train stations running to extracting ore to build a car.

Researchers from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, compiled a catalog of emissions for a variety of vehicles, including cars, light and heavy railways and jumbo jets. They said their research produced some surprising results.

For example, a comparison between light railways in both Boston and San Francisco showed that despite Boston boating a light railway with low operational energy use, the city’s trains emit far more greenhouse gases because 82 percent of the energy generated in Boston is fossil fuel-based compared to only 49 percent in San Francisco.

The Berkeley researchers also cautioned people to not make assumptions about the environment impact of one form of transportation over another. Using this new framework, the researchers concluded that a half-full Boston light railway is only as environmentally friendly, per kilometer traveled, as a midsize aircraft at 38 percent occupancy.

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