Environmental Assessment of Emerging Technologies: The Case of Nanomaterials for Energy Systems
Licentiate thesis, 2010
This thesis contributes to the development of methodologies for assessing the potential environmental performance of emerging or future technologies. The chosen empirical field is the study of nanotechnologies for energy systems. To evaluate the potential impact of such technologies requires considering the future state of a technology and its surrounding systems as well as the attainability of such a state.
LCA is the chosen tool for quantitative evaluation of the energy and material flows required for producing and using nanomaterials and artefacts containing them. Methodology modifications are made to account for the possible future shape and scale of production systems, and suggestions are presented which could increase the utility of LCA in this respect. Through using multiple system boundaries, it is shown possible to change the focus from material production to artefacts containing nanomaterials to the implications for larger surrounding systems. Such considerations may be of critical importance in capturing the most relevant aspects of future systems. The production of carbon nanomaterials and the production and use of lithium ion batteries are explored in this context.
If the material and energy components of a technology are predictable, then possible constraints or risks along the trajectory can be included as part of an overall assessment. The empirical issue at hand was the modeling and evaluation of the lithium resource supply. Regardless of the merits of a technology, the large scale of energy systems means that the availability of many materials can not necessarily be assumed.
Together, the papers suggest methodology adjustments to lifecycle analysis that may enable it to function as a tool for early assessment of the possible future state of a technology, as well as demonstrate how such results can be used to evaluate other questions such as resource availability. As such they form one of a set of tools that could be of use for policy makers, analysts, industrial producers, orultimately for any stakeholder with an interest in understanding the complexities of the challenges we face, and how nanotechnology may or may not help.