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Environ Sci Technol. 2008 Nov 1;42(21):7866-72.

Water intensity of transportation.

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  • 1Bureau of Economic Geology, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin, P.O. Box X, Austin, Texas 78713-8924, USA.


As the need for alternative transportation fuels increases, it is important to understand the many effects of introducing fuels based upon feedstocks other than petroleum. Water intensity in "gallons of water per mile traveled" is one method to measure these effects on the consumer level. In this paper we investigate the water intensity for light duty vehicle (LDV) travel using selected fuels based upon petroleum, natural gas, unconventional fossil fuels, hydrogen, electricity, and two biofuels (ethanol from corn and biodiesel from soy). Fuels more directly derived from fossil fuels are less water intensive than those derived either indirectly from fossil fuels (e.g., through electricity generation) or directly from biomass. The lowest water consumptive (<0.15 gal H20/mile) and withdrawal (<1 gal H2O/mile) rates are for LDVs using conventional petroleum-based gasoline and diesel, nonirrigated biofuels, hydrogen derived from methane or electrolysis via nonthermal renewable electricity, and electricity derived from nonthermal renewable sources. LDVs running on electricity and hydrogen derived from the aggregate U.S. grid (heavily based upon fossil fuel and nuclear steam-electric power generation) withdraw 5-20 times and consume nearly 2-5 times more water than by using petroleum gasoline. The water intensities (gal H20/mile) of LDVs operating on biofuels derived from crops irrigated in the United States at average rates is 28 and 36 for corn ethanol (E85) for consumption and withdrawal, respectively. For soy-derived biodiesel the average consumption and withdrawal rates are 8 and 10 gal H2O/mile.

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