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Keywords:

  • agent-based modeling;
  • Bayes' theorem;
  • emerging systems;
  • industrial ecology;
  • switchgrass;
  • technology diffusion

Summary

This article presents a framework to evaluate emerging systems in life cycle assessment (LCA). Current LCA methods are effective for established systems; however, lack of data often inhibits robust analysis of future products or processes that may benefit the most from life cycle information. In many cases the life cycle inventory (LCI) of a system can change depending on its development pathway. Modeling emerging systems allows insights into probable trends and a greater understanding of the effect of future scenarios on LCA results. The proposed framework uses Bayesian probabilities to model technology adoption. The method presents a unique approach to modeling system evolution and can be used independently or within the context of an agent-based model (ABM). LCA can be made more robust and dynamic by using this framework to couple scenario modeling with life cycle data, analyzing the effect of decision-making patterns over time. Potential uses include examining the changing urban metabolism of growing cities, understanding the development of renewable energy technologies, identifying transformations in material flows over space and time, and forecasting industrial networks for developing products. A switchgrass-to-energy case demonstrates the approach.