An integrated techno-sustainability assessment (TSA) framework for emerging technologies
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A better understanding of the drivers of the economic, environmental, and social sustainability of emerging (biobased) technologies and products in early development phases can help decision-makers to identify sustainability hurdles and opportunities. Furthermore, it guides additional research and development efforts and investment decisions, that will, ultimately, lead to more sustainable products and technologies entering a market. To this end, this study developed a novel techno-sustainability assessment (TSA) framework with a demonstration on a biobased chemical application. The integrated TSA compares the potential sustainability performance of different (technology) scenarios and helps to make better-informed decisions by evaluating and trading-off sustainability impacts in one holistic framework. The TSA combines methods for comprehensive indicator selection and integration of technological and country-specific data with environmental, economic, and social data. Multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) is used to address data uncertainty and to enable scenario comparison if indicators are expressed in different units. A hierarchical, stochastic outranking approach is followed that compares different weighting schemes and preference structures to check for the robustness of the results. The integrated TSA framework is demonstrated on an application for which the sustainability of a production and harvesting plant of microalgae-based food colorants is assessed. For a set of scenarios that vary with regard to the algae feedstock, production technology, and location, the sustainability performance is quantified and compared, and the underlying reasons for this performance are explored.