Application of Life Cycle Inventory Analysis to Fuel Tank System Design
Life Cycle Assessment is becoming an important tool for guiding environmental design improvements in the automotive industry. This paper reports the life cycle inventory profiles for two fuel tank systems based on a collaborative effort between the National Pollution Prevention Center at the University of Michigan, General Motors Research and Development, and the National Risk Management Research Laboratory of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Two 31 gallon functionally equivalent fuel tank systems used on a 1996 light duty vehicle were investigated: a multi-layer HDPE tank with a steel shield and PVC coated steel straps, and a steel tank with a HDPE shield and painted straps. Overall, the HDPE fuel tank system is environmentally preferable to the steel tank system based on the set of inventory results presented in this investigation. The Life Cycle Inventory analysis indicated lower energy burdens for the HDPE tank system and comparable solid waste burdens for both systems. The total life cycle energy consumption for the steel and HDPE tank systems were 4.9 GJ and 3.6 GJ per tank, respectively. The energy consumption and most of the air pollutants inventoried occurred as a consequence of the use phase. The solid wastes were generated primarily during the material production phase for the steel tank (13 kg) and during the end-of-life management phase for the HDPE tank (14 kg). This study also highlights data analysis and modeling challenges, including manufacturing and use phase allocation methods.