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Title: Air versus terrestrial transport modalities: an energy and environmental comparison
Authors: Federici, M
Ulgiati, S
Basosi, Riccardo 
Keywords: trasporti; energia e ambiente
Issue Date: 2009
Project: None 
Journal: ENERGY
In the last 15 years, worldwide air transportation has grown at an average yearly rate of 4.5%. Forecastsconfirm that this could be the average increase rate for the next 20 years, although recent oscillation ofoil price translated into a slowing down of such a trend, with several air companies forced out ofbusiness. Within this framework, low cost airlines keep increasing their market share, in so makingairplane to compete with terrestrial transport modalities, not only for medium and long distance, butalso for short trips. This is because air transport is obviously faster than transport by trains and cars, andmost often it also is a cheaper option in money terms.In spite of its apparent success, air transportation is a source of concern for many analysts, because it isconsidered as the more energy intensive and polluting transport modality. In order to explore thecorrectness of such an issue, we compared air transportation to high speed trains and other modernterrestrial modalities, by using a ‘‘whole-system’’ approach. The present study applies an LCA-likeapproach, by taking into account all the energy and materials directly and indirectly required to makeand operate infrastructures (i.e. tunnels, railways, highways) and vehicles. Efficiency and environmentalloading are assessed by means of Material Flow Accounting, Embodied Energy Analysis and EmergySynthesis methods. Results point out that the gap among the environmental performances of air, roadand railway modalities is significantly narrower than expected. The thermodynamic and environmentalcosts of road and railway infrastructure cannot be disregarded as negligible. In a selected number of casesthese transport modalities perform even worse than the air transportation mode, where infrastructuresplay a much smaller role.
ISSN: 0360-5442
DOI: 10.1016/
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