ASU scientists develop new approach to life cycle assessment

life-cycle-assessmentAn interdisciplinary team of ASU experts - including sustainability scientists Matthew Fraser, David Gutson and Thomas Seager - offers a new anticipatory approach to Life Cycle Assessment. The approach, featured in the Sept. 16 issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology, explores best- and worst-case scenarios for the impacts of technologies in diverse categories. It was developed using the photovoltaic cell, a rapidly emerging technology used in solar panels, as a test subject. Life Cycle Assessment is a tool commonly used by environmental engineers to weigh the positive and negative attributes of a technology at all stages of its life. Because the tool historically relies on hard data that can only be obtained after any environmental harm has already occurred, it presents a dilemma. The anticipatory approach to Life Cycle Assessment remedies this by embracing, rather than trying to eliminate, uncertainty or conflicting data. Instead of looking at one parameter at a time, it compares many uncertain parameters to identify an environmentally promising research agenda.