Life-Cycle Assessment Integration into Scalable Open-Source Numerical Models (LiAISON) for Analyzing Emerging Low-Carbon Technologies

Research output: NRELPresentation


Decarbonizing the industrial sector is a significant challenge in achieving a net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions economy by 2050 and the Paris Agreement, i.e., a global climate change mitigation target of achieving a maximum average temperature change potential of 1.5 degrees Celsius or less by 2100 with respect to pre-industrial levels. In the United States (US), the industrial sector accounts for 23% of total GHG emissions and is home to a number of hard-to-electrify activities. The chemicals subsector has the single largest subsector emissions profile after direct emissions from fossil fuel combustion and leakage from fossil fuel distribution systems. Within the chemicals subsector, many processes depend on hydrogen or ammonia precursors. Decarbonizing these two commodities would contribute significantly to decarbonizing the industrial sector as hydrogen could also be used for low carbon steel production (e.g., hydrogen-based direct reduction of iron) and other industrial applications. Emerging technologies require the application of prospective life cycle assessment (LCA), which can account for technology (foreground) scaling and process improvements via learning-by-doing, among others. In many cases, the future system context (background) in which the technologies are assumed to operate in is equally relevant. Background scenarios generated by integrated assessment models (IAM) can coherently incorporate potential future dynamics of the energy-climate-human-land system. Further, IAM scenarios are harmonized across socioeconomic and climate change mitigation pathways, which facilitates the comparability of prospective LCAs using different IAMs. We introduce an open source prospective LCA framework, the Life-cycle Assessment Integration into Scalable Open-source Numerical models (LiAISON), to analyze the non-linear relationships between technology foreground and the future energy system background across a series of midpoint and resource use metrics. The integration of LCA and IAM data is achieved using prospective environmental Impact assessment (PREMISE). We showcase it by assessing two Power-to-Hydrogen (PtH2) processes, namely Solid Oxide Electrolysis (SOE) and Polymer Electrolyte Membrane Electrolysis (PEME). We compare the technologies to a baseline of hydrogen production via natural gas-based Steam Methane Reforming (SMR) in a US context of multiple energy system and climate change mitigation futures. Besides providing an analysis that specifies the LCA results ranges with temporal and geospatial explicitness across the two technologies, metrics, and impact assessment methods, this research also aims to establish a base framework that can be expanded to use other IAM generated scenarios and US open-source life cycle inventory (LCI) databases. We find that the temporal environmental performance of either technology or their difference to SMR is directly influenced by the underlying background dynamics. Under baseline projections (i.e., no decarbonization goals), neither process reaches parity with the incumbent technology across several environmental metrics. Under the decarbonization scenarios, the underlying sectoral shifts result in declining impacts over time, compared to 2020 levels, except for metal depletion levels, which increase. The background shifts postulate a heavily decarbonized economy and energy system, which help technologies reach parity with SMR between 2040-2050 (RCP2.6) and 2030-2040 (RCP1.9) for global warming. Despite declines across several other metrics over time, neither PtH2 technology break even with SMR by 2100 besides for global warming.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages16
StatePublished - 2023

Publication series

NamePresented at the 30th International Symposium on Sustainable Systems and Technology (ISSST) Conference, 12-15 June 2023, Fort Collins, Colorado

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-6A20-86551


  • decarbonizing
  • emissions
  • hydrogen
  • life cycle assessment
  • sustainability


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