Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Master's Report

Degree Name

Master of Science in Civil Engineering (MS)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Advisor 1

Pasi T. Lautala

Committee Member 1

David Shonnard

Committee Member 2

Robert M. Handler


Transportation sector at large is a major consumer of fossil fuels and constitutes more than a quarter of the global greenhouse gas emissions. When making infrastructure route and mode choice decisions for new freight-oriented projects, it is important that environmental and emissions considerations are included as an integral part of the selection process. Emissions from freight transportation projects related to mining and natural resource industry are especially critical, as they involve high volumes and tonnages often in pristine environments. The most logical time for emissions analysis is during modal and route analysis that are often conducted in the planning stage of a project. One approach to perform such an analysis is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA); a method for estimating emissions, energy consumption and other environmental impacts of a project over its life cycle.

A major drawback of performing a detailed LCA comprising of all life cycle phases of a freight transportation project is that it requires extensive data, human effort and expertise. Availability of resources and data required for LCA often tends to be a challenge at this stage. This could be a discouraging factor for the stakeholders, resulting in simply neglecting this type of an evaluation. It is apparent from previous research that emissions from the “Operations” phase often account for a major portion of the overall impacts, so part of this research investigates whether a process that includes only the Operations phase emissions would still provide reliable outcomes.

This research builds on a detailed LCA comparison performed on a previous case study by Kalluri et al. (2016) and performs a comparative life cycle assessment of three different route alternatives for transporting copper/nickel ore from Eagle mine to Humboldt mill. The alternatives included the currently used highway route (CR-550), an alternative highway route (CR-595) considered in the planning stage of the mine, and a conceptual rail route designed as part of this study. This assessment was performed using two different methods; Detailed LCA and Operational LCA. The Detailed LCA incorporated the emissions arising from the complete life cycle of the transportation activity, including the construction operation and maintenance phases of both Infrastructure and equipment. This method used SimaPro version 8 software along with Ecoinvent v3.1 database and several other custom datasets created using regional and study specific data. The Operational LCA method considered only the emissions from the operations phase activities and the life cycle of the fuels used from well to wheel. This method used GREET 2016 model and the in-built database it offers, along with case specific data of fuel consumption and type of vehicles used.

The LCA was performed for the current expected mine life of 8 years and for 9, 10, 15, and 20-year mine lives, as the ongoing explorations at and around the mine location may offer potential for different mine life extensions. The results obtained in terms of kg CO2 equivalents of GHG emissions show that, from an emissions perspective CR-595 is a better alternative between the two road options and the rail option is clearly the best among the three, especially for longer mine lives. In addition, there is a significant potential for the rail route to serve traffic from the local timber and forest products industries. However, the analysis also shows that there are significant uncertainties in the results, depending on the data used.