Framework for Analyzing Transformative Technologies in Life Cycle Assessment

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Emerging products and technologies pose unique challenges for the life cycle assessment (LCA) community, given the lack of data and inherent uncertainties regarding their development. An emerging technology that has the potential to be transformative and effect broad-scale change within society, as well as the underpinning assumptions associated with its life cycle, is particularly difficult to analyze. Despite the associated challenges, LCA methods must be developed for transformative technologies. The greatest improvement potential occurs at the early phases of technology development; therefore, prospective LCA results can be used to anticipate potential unintended consequences and develop design pathways that lead to preferential outcomes. This paper identifies and categorizes ten factors that influence the LCA results of transformative technologies in order to provide a formal structure for determining appropriate factors for inclusion within an LCA. Appropriate factors for an analysis should be selected according to the overall research questions of the study and are applicable to both attributional and consequential approaches to LCA.

Research Areas: 
Transformative technologies
Existing system
Ten factors influencing LCA results
Publication Type: 
Journal Article
Environmental Science & Technology
Date Published: 
March 3, 2015
Persistent URL: 
DOI: 10.1021/es505217a
Full Citation: 
Miller, Shelie A. and Gregory A. Keoleian. (2015) “Framework for Analyzing Transformative Technologies in Life Cycle Assessment.” Environmental Science & Technology 49(5): 3067-3075.
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