You are here

New Tool Yields Custom Environmental Data for Lifecycle Analysis

September 10, 2012 - 1:00pm


Washington, DC - A new, free online tool developed by a Department of Energy (DOE) laboratory allows users to customize and analyze the environmental impact of various fuels before they are used to create power.

Information from the Excel™-based Upstream Dashboard - developed by the Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) - can be used with other data or models to build an emissions inventory of various feedstocks as part of a comprehensive lifecycle analysis of the fuels. Lifecycle analysis is a new and innovative way to analyze and compare different pathways for producing power and transportation fuels.

This integrated, holistic approach considers all of the steps in energy production, not just emissions at energy-conversion facilities. For example, to evaluate electricity production using pulverized coal, the environmental impacts of its entire lifecycle--from mining through transportation to combustion and end use. This approach is important in creating an understanding of greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts to help assure energy system decisions are environmentally sound and tradeoffs regarding cost and environment are clearly understood.

The Upstream Dashboard provides "upstream" data for lifecycle analysis of coal, natural gas, crude oil, uranium, and biomass, as well as gasoline, ethanol, jet fuel, and diesel derived from either petroleum or coal-gasification. For solid fuels and natural gas, data is included from extraction of a raw fuel through its delivery to a power plant; for transportation fuels, data is provided from extraction through refining. The tool not only breaks down energy production into the lifecycle stages of extraction and transportation, it also supplies choices, such as individual operations and construction processes, for each stage.

To use the tool, a user first selects the energy source to be analyzed and the desired reporting units. This generates a calculation of the expected amount of greenhouse gases, criteria air pollutants, solid waste, water use, energy input, water emissions, water withdrawal and consumption, land use changes, and energy return on investment. Each stage of the lifecycle is broken out so that the user can see its relative contribution to the entire system.

The user can customize the analysis by changing options such as the mode of transportation, distance the raw material travels, and the sub-type of fuel--Powder River Basin coal versus Illinois No. 6 coal, for example, or conventional onshore natural gas versus natural gas from Marcellus shale. Additionally, the environmental impact of greenhouse gas emissions can be calculated for 20-, 100-, or 500-years intervals based on the global warming potentials calculated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Results are listed in a chart as well as illustrated in a bar graph.

NETL is creating a range of lifecycle analysis tools and reports and building a comprehensive system of support for those interested in lifecycle analyses of various energy possibilities. The tool and accompanying users guide are available on the NETL energy analysis reference shelf.