Anticipatory Life-cycle Assessment: A Decision-driven Approach to Nanotechnology and the Environment
Friday, September 27, 2013
Thomas P. Seager, Ph.D.
School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment
Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering
Arizona State University
Abstract: While it is now widely accepted that the material life-cycle is the proper perspective from which to assess potential systemic environmental consequences, existing approaches to life-cycle assessment (LCA) are inherently retrospective. As a consequence, emerging technologies, such as nano-enabled products, present a significant challenge to LCA analysts seeking to mitigate prospective environmental risks before they manifest in new products and processes at commercial scales. In this talk, Dr. Seager presents a new, decision-driven framework for LCA that adapts analytic tools from multi-criteria decision analysis for improving impact assessment within LCA and orienting nanotechnology research and development towards more environmentally benign trajectories. To illustrate the new approach, results are contrasted with traditional methods in a consumer product case study where life cycle inventory data is readily obtainable and the method is then generalized to the data-poor context of single-walled carbon nanotubes. Finally, a complete description of an anticipatory approach to LCA approach for emerging technologies and high uncertainty is outlined and the challenges to realizing this approach detailed.