Life Cycle Analysis Tools for Evaluating the Environmental Footprint of Carbon Utilization Projects

G. Cooney, T. Skone, M. Mutchek
U.S. Department of Energy,
United States

Keywords: life cycle analysis, carbon footprinting, technology evaluation, environmetnal sustainability, carbon dioxide utilization guidiance

Summary:

Capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power and industrial sources and using that CO2 to make useful products is an emerging area of research that will benefit from a consistent and unbiassed framework like life cycle assessment/analysis (LCA) to understand the environmental impacts and net life cycle GHG reductions compared to the current state of the alternative in the marketplace. From a methodological perspective, CO2 utilization systems are complex due to the intrinsic links established between the power sector and the utilization sector (e.g., biofuels, cement, chemicals, etc.). In their 2019 report, “Gaseous Carbon Waste Streams: Utilization Status and Research Needs,” The National Academies identified life cycle assessment benchmarking as a key research priority to “facilitate consistent and transparent assessments of the net greenhouse gas emissions of carbon utilization technologies.” Technology developers and LCA analysts could benefit from guidance that establishes best practices for CO2 utilization LCA to allow for unbiassed assessment of potential benefits and opportunities for further research. LCA is uniquely suited to air in the analysis of CO2 utilization technologies because of the methodical approach that forces a cradle-to-grave understanding of the system. It is not uncommon to see CO2 utilization analyses that focus mainly on the utilization technology and apply a simplified approach to the upstream CO2 source. We contend that a robust treatment of the upstream CO2 source is imperative in any CO2 utilization LCA, because of the important link between the source of the CO2 and the use of the CO2 in the overall environmental impact. This holistic view is necessary to understand the net benefits of the entire system, not just a subset. Conducting LCA guidance work early is important in the development of these emerging technologies, because it allows time to implement change while technologies are still nascent. Additionally, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the federal government is increasingly requiring LCA as part of funding for primary research and tax incentives like “45Q” for CO2 capture, utilization, and storage projects (H.R. 1892, 2018). In the interest of supporting the creation of useful and consistent LCAs of CO2 utilization projects, the DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory has developed a CO2 utilization LCA toolkit. The primary audience for the toolkit is the group of principal investigators that have been awarded a grant through a DOE Carbon Use and Reuse funding opportunity announcement. However, we believe that there is wider application beyond those grant recipients. The toolkit comprises a guidance document, reporting templates, openLCA contribution analysis tools, LCI data, and subject matter expertise. The guidance document should be considered as a companion to the requirements established in ISO 14040/14044, providing specific guidance on methodological issues for scoping and completing the LCA. The guidance, data, and tools are publicly available and free. This presentation will provide an overview of each part of this first-of-a-kind toolkit, it’s utility to the LCA community, and value in assessing emerging technologies.