Prospective Life Cycle Assessment of Epitaxial Graphene Production at Different Manufacturing Scales and Maturity
Journal article, 2017
Epitaxial growth is a potential production process for the new material graphene, where it is grown on silicon carbide (SiC) wafers at high temperatures. We provide first estimates of the life cycle cumulative energy demand, climate change, terrestrial acidification, and ecotoxicity of this production. For this purpose, we applied prospective life cycle assessment (LCA) for three production scenarios (lab, pilot, and an industrial scenario), which reflect different production scales and technological maturity. The functional unit was one square centimeter of graphene. Results show that the three scenarios have similar impacts, which goes against previous studies that have suggested a decrease with larger production scale and technological maturity. The reason for this result is the dominance of electricity use in the SiC wafer production for all impacts (>99% in the worst case, >76% in the best case). Only when assuming thinner SiC wafers in the industrial scenario is there a reduction in impacts by around a factor of 10. A surface-area-based comparison to the life cycle energy use of graphene produced by chemical vapor deposition showed that epitaxial graphene was considerably more energy intensive-approximately a factor of 1,000. We recommend producers of epitaxial graphene to investigate the feasibility of thinner SiC wafers and use electricity based on wind, solar, or hydropower. The main methodological recommendation from the study is to achieve a temporal robustness of LCA studies of emerging technologies, which includes the consideration of different background systems and differences in production scale and technological maturity.