Environmental life cycle driven decision making in product design
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There is growing interest in the assessment of products from a life cycle perspective. Product life cycles are often dominated by extensive chemical supply chains that lead up to the materials contained in the products and the overwhelming contribution that the production of these chemicals make to the overall life cycle due to their energy intensity. Hence, chemical engineers are uniquely positioned to carry out significant components of this assessment because of their skills in chemical process design and analysis. Furthermore, the complexity and extent of life cycle concerns creates opportunities for new process systems tools to be developed to support product design and analysis. The specific thesis objectives are threefold. The first is to develop a systematic methodology to optimize material selections for a product based on life cycle inventory (LCI) characteristics. The second is to use this methodology combined with sustainability assessment standards to assess whether these standards are congruent with life cycle assessment. The third is to develop an approach to design product sustainability assessment standards that are clear and consistent with life cycle principles. The overall contributions will be in the applied domain of life cycle assessment and its integration into standards setting, and in contributions to optimization tools and methods. The three objectives will be illustrated in the domain of carpet systems. Previous research has generated a substantial database of gate-to-gate (GTG) life cycle inventories for various chemicals that make up carpet, extending from the inputs to the final carpet mill back to the natural resources such as oil, natural gas and mined calcium carbonate. Carpet recycling is a promising alternative approach for reducing life cycle impacts and is being practiced at a growing scale in the U.S. This thesis uses the specific individual LCI gate-to-gate blocks for virgin materials and for important carpet recycling and general polymer recycling processes. A database for the GTG LCI will be used to construct a virtual chemical tree that automatically that represents the potential cradle-to-gate (CTG) use of resources. The alternatives for each possible route for the product will be generated, and optimization approaches will be applied to optimize the performance of the carpet system according to life cycle objectives. Sustainability assessment standards are currently being developed for a range of building products, such as carpet, resilient flooring, commercial textile coverings and office furniture. This activity has been stimulated through the considerable success of the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) LEED standard. The LEED Standard is points-based: the building design and construction earns points for having certain attributes or promoting certain activities. The points are totaled and then the building earns a rating based on the total being above a certain threshold. The second thesis objective is met through extending the LCI optimization methodology to represent point-based standards. A product can then be optimized to maximize the number of points it earns or to minimize its life cycle attributes. This approach can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of an emerging carpet sustainability standard, NSF-140, in integrating LCI into the standard. The last objective, standard design, is approached through designing the tables that award points in the standard to be consistent with life cycle information. Certain minimum principles of consistency are articulated and then the designs shown to be consistent with these principles in the case that the life cycle impact assessment method maps the life cycle inventory to impact through a linear weighting.