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What Life Cycle Assessment Means for Materials

#emissions #sustainability #Carbon


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If you’ve ever wondered about what “life cycle assessment” (LCA) means in the context of addressing greenhouse gas emissions, a couple of graphics from the WorldAutoSteel organization makes it more understandable than it otherwise might be.

Simply, the regulatory focus as regards vehicles and emissions are generally focused on only one thing: tailpipe emissions. But that is only one part of the overall “life” of a car or truck.

As shown here, there are other periods in a given vehicle’s life, starting from when the materials that are used to produce the vehicle are mined—and while the folks at WorldAutoSteel are keenly interested in things that have a ferritic basis, this holds true for other things like aluminum and magnesium—until the point at which the vehicle has been recycled.


Going a bit deeper, you can see here how the use phase of a vehicle is only a comparatively small portion of the overall life.


While WorldAutoSteel acknowledges that there are lower-density materials like aluminum, magnesium and carbon fiber composites can provide vehicles that have less mass and can thereby possibly have better fuel consumption, which can mean fewer greenhouse gas emissions, the organization points out that the manufacture of those materials can result in higher amounts of emissions. According to the organization, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from aluminum production “can be as much as eight times higher per kilogram of material as the GHG emissions from steel production.”

WorldAutoSteel, of course, would like more steel to be used and the LCA approach can be a compelling rationale for those who are interested in reducing the amount of GHG emissions.

To substantiate its point it has been working with Dr. Roland Geyer, professor of Industrial Ecology and Green Supply Chain Management at the Bren School of the University of California, Santa Barbara, on a digital modeling tool to determine the GHG and energy effects of automotive material selection; the model is now in its fifth iteration (and can be accessed here).

Clearly, there is more to emissions than what comes out of a tailpipe.