Illustrating anticipatory life cycle assessment for emerging photovoltaic technologies

Ben A. Wender, Rider W. Foley, Valentina Prado-Lopez, Dwarakanath Ravikumar, Daniel A. Eisenberg, Troy A. Hottle, Jathan Sadowski, William P. Flanagan, Angela Fisher, Lise Laurin, Matthew E. Bates, Igor Linkov, Thomas P. Seager, Matthew P. Fraser, David H. Guston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


Current research policy and strategy documents recommend applying life cycle assessment (LCA) early in research and development (R&D) to guide emerging technologies toward decreased environmental burden. However, existing LCA practices are ill-suited to support these recommendations. Barriers related to data availability, rapid technology change, and isolation of environmental from technical research inhibit application of LCA to developing technologies. Overcoming these challenges requires methodological advances that help identify environmental opportunities prior to large R&D investments. Such an anticipatory approach to LCA requires synthesis of social, environmental, and technical knowledge beyond the capabilities of current practices. This paper introduces a novel framework for anticipatory LCA that incorporates technology forecasting, risk research, social engagement, and comparative impact assessment, then applies this framework to photovoltaic (PV) technologies. These examples illustrate the potential for anticipatory LCA to prioritize research questions and help guide environmentally responsible innovation of emerging technologies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10531-10538
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number18
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

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