Investigating Spatial Sensitivity in Life Cycle Assessment: A Method for Assessing Large-Scale Technology Deployment

EPA Grant Number: F13A10005
Title: Investigating Spatial Sensitivity in Life Cycle Assessment: A Method for Assessing Large-Scale Technology Deployment
Investigators: Breunig, Hanna
Institution: University of California - Berkeley
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: August 15, 2014 through August 15, 2016
Project Amount: $84,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2013) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Civil/Environmental Engineering


The goal of this research is to develop a reproducible method for assessing technology deployment using spatial data to understand the implications of local operational decisions. The research will ask two integrated questions: (1) How do local by-product management decisions affect the environmental, social and economic outcomes of nation-scale investments in energy technologies like CO2 capture, utilization and sequestration? (2) What spatial sensitivity must a life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology achieve in order to detect these effects?


LCAs of carbon capture and management technology deployment will be completed within locally and regionally scaled scenario analyses using new geographical approaches. The research includes the following specific aims: (1) a continued literature review; (2) the development of a method for generating a geographic information system database of life cycle inventory and effects; (3) the development of a method for weighting effects in a spatially meaningful manner; (4) the application of experimental method to carbon-capture waste and agriculture waste management scenarios and the comparison of the results with traditional LCA; (5) uncertainty assessment; (6) the vetting and dissemination of results through conferences and open access journals.

Expected Results:

One significant expected outcome of this research is the identification of nexuses of spatial variables, indicating hot spots for profitable industrial development that overlap with regions that have traditionally stressed human or ecosystem health. These areas may require unique regulatory considerations to make alternative by-product management scenarios with lower human or ecosystem health effects more cost-effective.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

This research explores the potential of LCA as a prospective decision making tool. This innovative approach to conducting regionalized LCA in a scenario analysis could present a salient answer to the call for uncertainty management in emerging technology analysis. A method that quantifies triple bottom-line tradeoffs will introduce a new standard in modern practices for deploying green technology. Subsidy allocations, environmental justice initiatives and regulatory developments would have a new scientific platform on which to base adaptive decision making.

Supplemental Keywords:

carbon management, life cycle assessment, spatial analysis

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2015
  • Final