2003 Progress Report: Electronic Tags for Product Lifecycle Management

EPA Grant Number: R829585
Title: Electronic Tags for Product Lifecycle Management
Investigators: Thomas, Valerie , Wagner, Sigurd
Institution: Princeton University
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: January 1, 2002 through December 31, 2004 (Extended to December 31, 2005)
Project Period Covered by this Report: January 1, 2002 through December 31, 2003
Project Amount: $240,000
RFA: Technology for a Sustainable Environment (2001) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Sustainability , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development


The objectives of this research project are to test, demonstrate, and develop the potential application of electronic tags for product life cycle management.

Progress Summary:

We developed a system to link existing barcodes on products to Web-based dismantlement and recycling instructions. We collaborated with Motorola to develop a system for retrieving dismantlement information for cell phones. We began the project with the idea that radio frequency identification (RFID) tags were the most promising technology for electronic product environmental management. Through our research, we learned that other technologies may be more useful, and that each technology is best suited for somewhat different applications. Barcodes are easier and cheaper to implement than RFID and have nearly all the capabilities of RFID systems. Global positioning system (GPS) locators are more expensive than RFID tags on a per tag basis, but GPS field tests and applications are easier and cheaper to implement. RFID systems are difficult not only because their technical capabilities are limited (short read range), but also because implementation for life cycle management requires upfront cooperation and coordination between manufacturers and the recycling industries over long time scales.

Because it appears that applications of barcodes and GPS systems are more feasible in the short term than RFID systems, we have been increasingly concentrating our efforts on the use of these technologies for product life cycle management. We have developed a working prototype barcode system with Motorola, which now has been through their intellectual property disclosure process. Currently, we are working on field tests of GPS locators for product end-of-life management.

Our proposal to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discussed only one technology, RFID tags. Through the course of our research, however, we have realized that other technologies, specifically barcodes and GPS or radio systems, have equal or better potential for product life cycle monitoring. Barcodes can do almost everything that RFID tags can do, and they have the advantage of being inexpensive and widely accepted. Although they are more expensive, GPS locators are much more capable than RFID systems . In Year 1 of the project, we made significant progress with barcodes and developed a system in collaboration with Motorola. We are focusing on GPS systems, both as a tracking technology in its own right, and as a foundation for the development of lower cost tracking technologies using RFID or other technologies. For example, if a product can be tracked using GPS locators, that capability could be used to test the performance of other tracking technologies.

Future Activities:

We will: (1) conduct field tests with GPS locator systems for tracking end-of-life products; (2) write a paper for publication in a peer-reviewed journal on the potential for GPS tracking of end-of-life products; and (3) continue with additional GPS field tests or conduct field tests with small radio transmitters (depending on the outcome of the initial GPS field tests) such as those used in ecological experiments to track animals. GPS systems are more automated, but currently have a relatively short battery life. Radio transmitter systems require use of a nearby receiver, but do have a longer battery life and, therefore, may be better suited for some product management applications.

Journal Articles on this Report : 3 Displayed | Download in RIS Format

Other project views: All 14 publications 4 publications in selected types All 4 journal articles
Type Citation Project Document Sources
Journal Article Saar S, Thomas V. Toward trash that thinks: product tags for environmental management. Journal of Industrial Ecology 2002;6(2):133-146. R829585 (2003)
R829585 (2004)
R829585 (Final)
  • Full-text: Wiley-Full Text PDF
  • Abstract: Wiley-Abstract
  • Journal Article Saar S, Stutz M, Thomas VM. Towards intelligent recycling: a proposal to link bar codes to recycling information. Resources, Conservation and Recycling 2004;41(1):15-22. R829585 (2003)
    R829585 (2004)
    R829585 (Final)
  • Full-text: Science Direct-Full Text HTML
  • Abstract: Science Direct-Abstract
  • Other: Science Direct-Full Text PDF
  • Journal Article Thomas VM. Product self-management: evolution in recycling and reuse. Environmental Science & Technology 2003;37(23):5297-5302. R829585 (2003)
    R829585 (2004)
    R829585 (Final)
  • Abstract from PubMed
  • Full-text: ACS-Full Text HTML
  • Abstract: ACS-Abstract
  • Other: ACS-Full Text PDF
  • Supplemental Keywords:

    innovative technology, sustainable industry/business, environmental engineering, sustainable environment, technology for a sustainable environment, electronic tags, environmental sustainability, environmentally conscious design, environmentally conscious manufacturing, green design, industrial innovations, product life cycle, waste minimization., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Sustainable Industry/Business, Sustainable Environment, Environmental Chemistry, cleaner production/pollution prevention, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Economics, Environmental Engineering, life cycle analysis, cleaner production, clean technologies, environmentally conscious manufacturing, green design, life cycle inventory, waste minimization, waste reduction, environmental sustainability, clean manufacturing, electronic tags, product life cycle, life cycle assessment, environmental cost analysis, industrial innovations, pollution prevention

    Relevant Websites:

    http://ip.com/pubView/IPCOM000018813D Exit

    Progress and Final Reports:

    Original Abstract
  • 2002
  • 2004 Progress Report
  • Final Report