Life-Cycle Assessments

Often in ETP, we talk about the trade offs of different strategies for production and use of energy. However it is difficult to get a big picture of where everything comes from. When we think of hydroelectricity generation, we think of the cost of building the dam and generators as well as the effects of the flooding and the energy the dam will be able to produce.

But what about where all the materials come from? And what will happen to the dam after it is put out of use? A life-cycle assessment (LCA) tries to take into account every impact something may have.

In the realm of combustion engine, hybrid, and electric vehicles, electric and hybrid vehicles may seem to be more “green” (and thus appeal more to a customer) in it’s operation. Although the motors of electric vehicles are more efficient, the biggest concern has to be the generation of the electricity being used by the car. The car can only be as environmentally friendly as the inputs and in most states, electricity is generated from coal and natural gas.

We also have to think of the production of the cars and their components as well. An IEEE podcast with Dominic Notter, a researcher for Swiss Federal Laboratories says that the mining and processing of lithium is only a small fraction of the environmental footprint of an electric car. But even though electric cars can claim to be emission free during operation, they cannot avoid the carbon footprint of production of the battery packs.

Overall, research shows that electric vehicles have the least impact on the environment, but there seems to be a lack of research on production of the factories, efficiency of the factories in how much they’ll save in comparison to factories producing combustion engine vehicles and the use of such factories and the cars themselves after the technology is improved.

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