Life-cycle impact assessment methods for physical energy scarcity: considerations and suggestions
Journal article, 2021

Purpose: Most approaches for energy use assessment in life cycle assessment do not consider the scarcity of energy resources. A few approaches consider the scarcity of fossil energy resources only. No approach considers the scarcity of both renewable and non-renewable energy resources. In this paper, considerations for including physical energy scarcity of both renewable and non-renewable energy resources in life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) are discussed. Methods: We begin by discussing a number of considerations for LCIA methods for energy scarcity, such as which impacts of scarcity to consider, which energy resource types to include, which spatial resolutions to choose, and how to match with inventory data. We then suggest three LCIA methods for physical energy scarcity. As proof of concept, the use of the third LCIA method is demonstrated in a well-to-wheel assessment of eight vehicle propulsion fuels. Results and discussion: We suggest that global potential physical scarcity can be operationalized using characterization factors based on the reciprocal physical availability for a set of nine commonly inventoried energy resource types. The three suggested LCIA methods for physical energy scarcity consider the following respective energy resource types: (i) only stock-type energy resources (natural gas, coal, crude oil and uranium), (ii) only flow-type energy resources (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and the flow generated from biomass funds), and (iii) both stock- and flow-type resources by introducing a time horizon over which the stock-type resources are distributed. Characterization factors for these three methods are provided. Conclusions: LCIA methods for physical energy scarcity that provide meaningful information and complement other methods are feasible and practically applicable. The characterization factors of the three suggested LCIA methods depend heavily on the aggregation level of energy resource types. Future studies may investigate how physical energy scarcity changes over time and geographical locations.

Energy analysis

Life cycle assessment (LCA)

Life cycle impact assessment (LCIA)

Energy type aggregation

Characterization factor

Energy scarcity



Rickard Arvidsson

Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Environmental Systems Analysis

Magdalena Svanström

Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Environmental Systems Analysis

Simon Harvey

Chalmers, Space, Earth and Environment, Energy Technology

Björn Sandén

Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Environmental Systems Analysis

International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment

0948-3349 (ISSN)

Vol. 26 2339-2354

Making Sense of the Megajoules: Improving Energy Use Calculations in Life Cycle Assessment of energy carriers used for vehicle propulsion

Chalmers, 2018-01-01 -- 2019-12-31.

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Areas of Advance



Subject Categories

Renewable Bioenergy Research

Other Environmental Engineering

Energy Systems



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