Environmental Assessment of Emerging Technologies: The Case of Alternative Transport Fuels
Licentiate thesis, 2005
There are several methods to evaluate the environmental performance of new technologies. The purpose of this thesis is to contribute to the methodological development of environmental assessments, with contributions from life-cycle assessment (LCA), theories on technical change and socio-technical scenarios.
LCA, or well-to-wheel studies, is a widely used tool for evaluating the environmental performance of alternative transport fuels. However, the methodology is usually not adapted to answer questions regarding strategic technology choice. Suggestions are presented that could increase the usefulness of LCA in this respect. A net output approach is used, where fuels are used for their own production and distribution. Background system changes and the size of byproduct markets are studied, and it is shown that these factors can have a large influence on the results. Studies of LCA type can be used to give information on which fuels that have a low environmental impact today, and which are promising in the long run. However, it is suggested that also dynamic processes of technical changed need to be taken into account in the selection of technologies.
In a study of the history of alternative transport fuels in Sweden, we show that also short-term options can contribute to the development towards more promising long-term options. Investments in alternative fuels during the years have not only resulted in physical artefacts and new explicit knowledge, but have also created dedicated actors and changed tacit knowledge and normative rules. Positive feedback loops related to actors, knowledge and rules have created more actors and changed regulation, and an ability of alternatives to survive. At the same time, the growth of some alternatives has favoured others, due to overlaps in socio-technical systems.
However, the growth of alternatives is still very much dependent on exogenous factors and policy. The balance between short-term and long-term options in the transition of the transport system is illustrated through the use of socio-technical scenarios. These show that there is a risk that any policy could result in a negative development for renewable alternatives, but they also suggest that there are opportunities for growth. Policy could balance the development in different parts of the system, and make use of short-term options to contribute to more radical changes in the transport system.
technology path assessment