Special Session: LCA Practice & Contributions from the Department of Energy

For the 4th consecutive year, the Department of Energy Labs is hosting a special session on the contribution of the Labs to LCA.

Increasingly complex energy supply chains, such as those for biomass energy feedstocks and unconventional fossil fuels, require increased attention from scientists, analysts and policy makers to quantify the environmental impacts and identify technology and policy strategies for mitigating those impacts. Throughout the Department of Energy and especially at the National Laboratories, life cycle analysis plays a critical role in informing these complex questions. Further, as taxpayer-funded entities, they exist to serve the public and the research community. In this 4th annual version of this session, representatives from several Department of Energy national laboratories, such as the National Energy Technology Lab, National Renewable Energy Lab, Argonne National Lab, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Brookhaven National Lab and Pacific Northwest National Lab, will highlight some of the recent contributions of their programs, such as meeting DOE and Laboratory goals, addressing challenges or delivering high quality life cycle products. This session will provide a chance for the community to see in a single place and at an overview level, the myriad of LCA efforts happening in the Department of Energy. A panel of these representatives will then take questions and feedback regarding research and data needs from the LCA community.

13:30 Garvin Heath

Power and Fuels, Renewable and Conventional: Selected Highlights of LCA Activities at NREL

ABSTRACT. For two decades, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has conducted life cycle assessments (LCA) of energy technologies in support of DOE’s goals to ensure America’s prosperity by addressing its energy and environmental challenges. This presentation will highlight results and challenges of recent LCAs at NREL, as well as how traditional LCA methods have been extended to help answer different questions. For instance, we are developing a spatially, temporally and chemically explicit inventory of air pollutant emissions from the life cycle of biofuels grown at the scale required to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2022 based on NREL’s LCA model of biofuels, Billion Ton Study II projections of feedstock production and many other data sources. Resulting air quality and health impacts will be compared to a baseline and business as usual scenario. In a project focused on US thin film photovoltaic manufacturing, we have collaborated to develop a hybrid LCA based on NREL’s detailed manufacturing cost models, including forward-looking road maps for PV and background economy changes, to assess the influence of different factors like dematerialization and efficiency improvements have on changes in life cycle impact metrics. Finally, we have been developing new methods to integrate detailed geospatial and empirical inventories of land occupation by energy infrastructure with estimates of lifetime energy generation to yield highly resolved estimates of life cycle land use with a case study of Barnett Shale natural gas. These are three examples of the several LCAs and similar projects currently being conducted at NREL, along with musings about fertile directions for further research.

13:45 Corrinne Scown

The Importance of LCA from R & D through Commercialization
SPEAKER: Corrinne Scown /

ABSTRACT. The resources the U.S. Department of Energy devotes to developing new technologies and ushering them to commercial-scale success are tied to the goals of energy independence, climate change mitigation, and an improvement in environmental quality. Members of the Sustainable Energy Systems group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory conduct life-cycle assessment (LCA) research in collaboration with basic scientists and engineers at each stage of the technology life cycle, from R&D and proof of concept, through pilot projects, commercialization, and maturity. By adding performance metrics such as greenhouse gas footprints, net energy return on investment, water use, and human health damages, this work facilitates more informed design decisions and helps steer research, development, and deployment.

Here we discuss the work done in the Sustainable Energy Systems group through a set of representative case studies: 1) scenario analysis and life-cycle net energy analysis of artificial photosynthesis for large-scale production of hydrogen fuel; 2) greenhouse gas and net energy tradeoffs of drop-in bio-based jet fuel, diesel, and lubricant production via furanic and fermentation routes; 3) greenhouse gas and water use tradeoffs associated with lignin utilization strategies at U.S. cellulosic ethanol production facilities; and 4) scale-up strategies for efficient collection, second life uses, and recycling of automotive Li-ion batteries in California. Through these case studies, we demonstrate that LCA, particularly when combined with scenario analysis and robust uncertainty analysis can highlight unanticipated challenges early on, and help researchers focus on key contributors to improved energy and environmental importance.

The U.S. Department of Energy has dedicated significant resources for large-scale basic and applied research to develop low-carbon technologies in areas ranging from building energy efficiency to advanced batteries to solar energy-to-fuel conversion systems. The technologies evolving out of this research are diverse, but they share a common need for analytical methods that can support decision-making by identifying potentially fruitful deployment pathways and by providing early indications of unintended consequences. The Emerging Technology Assessment (ETA) team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is one of the DOE groups conducting early-stage research to better understand the potential impacts of energy technologies long before deployment. The goal of the ETA team and similar research groups is to assess the potential large- scale energy, climate, health, natural resource, and cost impacts of low-carbon technologies under development, highlight promising paths forward, and identify significant barriers that must be overcome to facilitate successful scale-up. Here we assess the methods and outcomes of teams such as ETA, whose members work closely with basic researchers on techno-economic and life-cycle assessments. This research will be discussed in the context of four case studies: 1) an artificial leaf that can provide fuel for transportation using artificial photosynthesis; 2) dynamic windows that use nan-scale switching to reduce building energy footprints; 3) water efficient biofuels that require the selection and engineering of feedstocks that thrive in dry climates; and 4) carbon dioxide management based on a long-term plan for efficient capture, utilization, and sequestration of CO2. Our preliminary research has identified three key challenges: 1) the need to weigh the value of short-term climate change mitigation against the risk of technological lock-in; 2) harnessing renewable energy resources in a changing climate; and 3) understanding how both risk and opportunity depend on the geographical variation of economic, political and environmental conditions.

14:15 Jennifer DunnMichael Wang and Amgad Elgowainy

Life Cycle Analysis of Advanced Transportation and Fuel Technologies

ABSTRACT. Argonne National Laboratory’s Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation (GREETTM) model analyzes the life-cycle impacts of various vehicle-fuel technology combinations. Example fuels in this model are those produced from petroleum and natural gas, electricity, hydrogen, and biofuels including corn and cellulosic ethanol and hydrocarbon drop-in fuels from bio-feedstocks. Vehicle types include conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles, fuel cell vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles, and battery-powered electric vehicles. GREET outputs are life-cycle energy consumption, air emissions (including greenhouse gases and criteria air pollutants), and water consumption. Energy consumption is separated further into coal, natural gas, and petroleum consumption.

This presentation highlights recent key research at Argonne in the areas of baseline petroleum fuels, biofuels and impacts of vehicle technology improvements. We present updated and expanded LCA results with the inclusion of water consumption and black carbon emissions in GREET. We also review the treatment of soil organic carbon changes upon land transitions in GREET and present results from analysis of the influence of soil carbon depletion mitigation techniques including cover crops and manure application. We reiterate the importance of data quality, transparency of methodology (including treatment of co-products), and accounting for uncertainty in LCA.


Overview of Energy Life Cycle Analysis at NETL
SPEAKER: Tim Skone

ABSTRACT. Evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of energy technology and policy options requires the comparison of those options on a common basis, which includes not only the impacts of converting fuel to useful energy, but of infrastructure construction, extraction and transportation of fuel, and transport of the final energy product to the end user. Further, environmental costs and benefits must be weighed against economic analyses with identical boundaries. At the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, life cycle analysis (LCA) is used as tool and framework for performing these types of evaluations. This overview will describe the LCA process at NETL, including unique application of stochastic methods to environmental and economic analyses, and show highlights from several recent studies such as a complete inventory of natural gas extraction, and a comparison of advanced power technology options.