• Report

Externalities of transportation fuels: Assessing trade-offs between petroleum and alternatives


Birur, D., Beach, R., Loomis, R., Chipley, S., Gallaher, M., & Dayton, D. (2013). Externalities of transportation fuels: Assessing trade-offs between petroleum and alternatives. (RTI Press Publication No. OP-0013-1307). Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI Press. DOI: 10.3768/rtipress.2013.op.0013.1307


This research report examines the economic and environmental externalities associated with the US transportation sector. The United States currently accounts for about 25 percent of world oil consumption, about 50 percent of which is imported. Achieving energy security by reducing dependence on imported oil has been the foremost challenge of several major energy-importing countries, including the United States. In this study, we explored the costs associated with energy security/cost of dependence on oil and estimated the environmental externalities associated with different types of transportation fuels based on a set of economic, environmental, and life-cycle analysis models. Our assessment of estimations on oil dependence costs indicates that several elements constitute the true cost of oil and not many studies have attempted to include all of these costs for various reasons. For analyzing the environmental externalities, we used a life-cycle analysis model; the FASOM-GHG model of agriculture and forestry; APEEP—an integrated assessment model to calculate the marginal damage of emissions; GTAP-BIO—a computable general equilibrium model to estimate land use changes; and the OSIRIS model to estimate the species extinctions based on deforestation. This study on assessing the externalities could provide a quantitative basis for policy initiatives pertaining to America’s future transportation infrastructure. This study suggests that there is a need to consider economic, environmental, and other societal costs within a holistic framework to assess relative costs and benefits and suitability of alternative transportation fuels that could play a role in meeting our future energy needs.

Author Details

Dileep Birur

Dileep K. Birur, PhD, is a research economist in the Agriculture, Resource & Energy Economics and Policy Program at RTI International. His research includes economic modeling of the agriculture and energy sectors in partial and general equilibrium frameworks.

Ross Loomis

Ross J. Loomis, MS, is a senior economist in RTI’s Ecosystem Services Research Program. His research includes analyzing and modeling markets for ecosystem services; valuing nonmarket goods; and conducting benefit-cost and economic impact analyses, advanced statistical and spatial analyses, and industry assessments.

S Chipley

Sealy Chipley, BS, is an environmental scientist, formerly with RTI, and is founder of Chipley Consulting.

Michael Gallaher

Michael P. Gallaher, PhD, is the senior director of RTI’s Center for Environmental, Technology, and Energy Economics. His research includes R&D and environmental policy analysis, with a focus on evaluating new technologies and their associated economic and environmental impacts.

David Dayton

David C. Dayton, PhD, manages the biofuels program in RTI’s Engineering and Technology Unit. His research focuses on alternative fuels research, particularly synthesis gas conversion, cleanup, and conditioning, and experimental programs related to biomass thermochemical conversion for biofuel production.