The Role of Scale and Technology Maturity in Life Cycle Assessment of Emerging Technologies: A Case Study on Carbon Nanotubes
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1111/jiec.12175
Summary: Life cycle assessment (LCA) has been applied for assessing emerging technologies, where large-scale production data are generally lacking. This study introduces a standardized scheme for technology and manufacturing readiness levels to contextualize a technology's development stage. We applied the scheme to a carbon nanotube (CNT) LCA and found that, regardless of synthesis technique, CNT manufacturing will become less energy intensive with increased levels of readiness. We examined the influence of production volume on LCA results using primary data from a commercial CNT manufacturer with approximately 100 grams per day production volume and engineering design of a scaled-up process with 1 tonne per day production capacity. The results show that scaling up could reduce 84% to 94% of its cradle-to-gate impacts, mainly as a result of the recycling of feedstock that becomes economically viable only beyond certain minimum production volume. This study shows that LCAs on emerging technologies based on immature data should be interpreted in conjunction with their technology and manufacturing readiness levels and reinforces the need of standardizing and communicating information on these readiness levels and scale of production in life cycle inventory practices.