back to all publications

Life cycle assessment of emerging technologies: Evaluation techniques at different stages of market and technical maturity

CSS Publication Number
Full Publication Date
October 15, 2019

Life cycle assessment (LCA) analysts are increasingly being asked to conduct life cycle‐based systems level analysis at the earliest stages of technology development. While early assessments provide the greatest opportunity to influence design and ultimately environmental performance, it is the stage with the least available data, greatest uncertainty, and a paucity of analytic tools for addressing these challenges. While the fundamental approach to conducting an LCA of emerging technologies is akin to that of LCA of existing technologies, emerging technologies pose additional challenges. In this paper, we present a broad set of market and technology characteristics that typically influence an LCA of emerging technologies and identify questions that researchers must address to account for the most important aspects of the systems they are studying. The paper presents: (a) guidance to identify the specific technology characteristics and dynamic market context that are most relevant and unique to a particular study, (b) an overview of the challenges faced by early stage assessments that are unique because of these conditions, (c) questions that researchers should ask themselves for such a study to be conducted, and (d) illustrative examples from the transportation sector to demonstrate the factors to consider when conducting LCAs of emerging technologies. The paper is intended to be used as an organizing platform to synthesize existing methods, procedures and insights and guide researchers, analysts and technology developer to better recognize key study design elements and to manage expectations of study outcomes.

Adam R. Brandt
Daniel Posen
H. Scott Matthews
Heather L. MacLean
Joe Cresko
Joule A. Bergerson
Marcelle McManus
Michael Carbajales‐Dale
Sean McCoy
Sylvia Sleep
Thomas P. Seager
Timothy Skone
W. Ross Morrow
Research Areas
Framework, Methods & Tools
Mobility Systems
Publication Type
Journal Article
Digital Object Identifier
Full Citation
Bergerson, Joule A., Adam Brandt, Joe Cresko, Michael Carbajales‐Dale, Heather L. MacLean, H. Scott Matthews, Sean McCoy, Marcelle McManus, Shelie A. Miller, William R. Morrow III, I. Daniel Posen, Thomas Seager, Timothy Skone, and Sylvia Sleep. (2019) “Life cycle assessment of emerging technologies: Evaluation techniques at different stages of market and technical maturity.” Journal of Industrial Ecology 24(1): 11-25.