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Life Cycle Optimization of Vehicle Replacement


Automobiles are among society’s most resource intensive products.  They have significant environmental impacts throughout their entire life cycle, including material production, manufacturing, use, service, and end-of-life management stages.  Each year in the United States, approximately ten million vehicles are retired from service, typically because of major component failure or structural integrity loss due to extended normal wear, corrosion, or accidents. While retirement decisions are most often guided by economic considerations, the optimal vehicle service life also poses a complex resource and environmental management problem for both automotive manufacturers and consumers. For example, there is an environmental cost-benefit tradeoff between investing extra energy and materials in a new, more energy-efficient, and less polluting automobile versus continuing to operate and maintain an older, less-efficient and more polluting vehicle. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) offers a comprehensive method for assessing the consequences of retiring a vehicle in exchange for a newer model to minimize environmental impacts over a fixed time horizon.

This project represents pioneering research in LCA and vehicle replacement modeling. The goal is to create a general life cycle vehicle replacement model that addresses both environmental impact and cost, and translate the research findings into recommendations for key stakeholders (auto manufacturers, policymakers, and consumers) on vehicle replacement and service life.  The overall goal is to contribute to product planning and development, emissions and fuel economy policies, and consumer education.

Investigators plan to develop a group of objective functions for the model that address cumulative life cycle burdens (greenhouse gases, criteria air pollutants, solid waste, and waterborne pollutants) and economic cost. These functions will be used to find global optimal vehicle service lives.  Simulations will examine emerging technologies including hybrids and fuel cell vehicles.  Remanufacturing strategies where the vehicle is returned to the manufacturer to be retrofitted with technology upgrades will also be examined.  In addition, the reliability of major vehicle components (e.g. engine, transmission) will be modeled to address unscheduled failure of components that can influence vehicle retirement.

General Motors Corporation
United States Environmental Protection Agency
National Science Foundation (NSF)
Research Areas
Mobility Systems