Lifecycle Analysis & Thinking- The Engineering Perspective

Matthew J. Realff
Matthew J. Realff
College Liaison
Professor, School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Associate Director, Strategic Energy Institute

How would you define this BIG IDEA?

Lifecycle thinking is most often considered in the context of products, but can also be applied to services and other systems that deliver a clear unit of value. The idea is to evaluate the multi-dimensional impacts of delivering the unit of value not just at its point of delivery but also tracing supply chains required to deliver the value back to their points of origin, considering the impacts during the time the unit of value is being provided, and during any disposal or recycling. Impacts that are most typically considered are physical, such as global warming potential or ecotoxicological, and more recently social, to compliment the usual economic measures.

How does this BIG IDEA about sustainable communities play out in your work?‚Äč

In the example of renewable energy infrastructure has to be built to provide it, and this can still consume scare resources that have detrimental environmental impacts. For example, critical minerals such as Neodymium are used in high powered magnets for wind turbines and are currently produced through very locally environmentally damaging mining in Mongolia. Thus although wind turbine energy might have low carbon footprint in its production, it can have high impacts in other parts of the supply chain. Similarly, biofuels might have better carbon footprints that hydrocarbons once the land has been cleared for growing them, but the initial release of carbon from the standing biomass is part of the life cycle.