Dynamic Life Cycle Assessment of Energy Technologies under Different Greenhouse Gas Concentration Pathways
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Global warming potential (GWP) has been widely used in the life cycle assessment (LCA) to quantify the climate impacts of energy technologies. Most LCAs are static analyses without considering the dynamics of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and changes in background GHG concentrations. This study presents a dynamic approach to analyze the life-cycle GWP of energy technologies in different timeframes and representative GHG concentration pathways. Results show that higher atmospheric GHG concentrations lead to higher life-cycle GWP for long-term analysis. The impacts of background GHG concentrations are more significant for technologies with large operational emissions or CH4 emissions than technologies with low operational emissions. The case study for the U.S. electricity sector in 2020-2050 shows the impacts of background GHG concentrations and different LCA methods on estimating national climate impacts of different energy technology scenarios. Based on the results, it is recommended for future LCAs to incorporate temporal effects of GHG emissions when (1) the technology has large operational GHG emissions or CH4 emissions; (2) the analysis time frame is longer than 50 years; (3) when LCA results are used for policymaking or technology comparisons for mitigating climate change.