Improving innovation: Assessing the environmental impacts of emerging technology

February 19, 2020

Although many new technologies offer the promise to improve human welfare, they can also produce unintended environmental consequences. And while applying the principles of life cycle assessment (LCA) early in technology development can provide important insights about how to avoid damage to the environment, existing methods focus on products or processes that are already commercially established.

Meanwhile, the procedures and tools used to assess emerging technologies tend to be applied on an ad hoc basis, with no clear guidelines as to what methods are available, applicable or appropriate.

A new special issue of Yale's Journal of Industrial Ecology addresses this gap with cutting edge research that advances methods, tests new approaches against emerging technologies, and assesses novel technologies for transportation, infrastructure, energy, and materials. The special issue, "Life Cycle Assessment for Emerging Technologies," includes findings with far-reaching implications for technology developers and policy makers.

View the issue:

For example, two papers reveal the potential environmental consequences of the rapid increase in production of the lithium-ion battery packs that power everything from electric cars to portable computing devices. In contrast to earlier analyses, these studies show that, on a global scale, expansion of lithium production is likely to continue without being slowed by resource constraints for up to three more decades. Meanwhile, localized environmental impacts associated with extraction and processing of high-grade lithium ion brines are likely to create geographic imbalances in the environmental impacts and benefits of that expansion.

The issue also includes papers on fresh approaches to comparative assessment of emerging energy technologies. These new analyses make clear that the age of single-technology solutions at massive, industrial scales is coming to a close. The papers here examine environmental impact of alternative energy futures for algae-derived fuels, hydrogen, solar, and off-shore wind energy technologies.

"The research in this issue advances not only the understanding and methods for the environmental assessment of novel technologies, italso shows the potential for refashioning the tools of systematic environmental assessment to apply at the earliest stages of the innovation cycle," said Reid Lifset, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

Another innovation is the creation of LCA inventories (databases) that can be aligned with the scenarios used in the integrated assessment models (IAMs) widely used in climate change modeling. Methods to incorporate technology readiness levels (TRLs) that are used in R&D management allow connection of LCA with other complementary tools such as multicriteria decision analysis, risk analysis, techno-economic analysis, and the development of data repositories for emerging materials, processes, and technologies.
The Journal of Industrial Ecology is a peer-reviewed international scientific journal owned by Yale University and co-edited with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Tsinghua University. It is headquartered in the Center for Industrial Ecology at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

The special issue was edited by Joule Bergerson (University of Calgary), Stefano Cucurachi (Leiden University), and Thomas Seager (Arizona State University). A grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation provided partial support for the special issue including funds for open access publication of four of the articles in the issue.

Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

Related Innovation Articles from Brightsurf:

Food system innovation -- and how to get there
Food production has always shaped the lives of humans and the surface of the Earth.

What is the best way to encourage innovation? Competitive pay may be the answer
Economists and business leaders agree that innovation is a major force behind economic growth, but many disagree on what is the best way to encourage workers to produce the 'think-outside-of-the-box' ideas that create newer and better products and services.

Innovation is widespread in rural areas, not just cities
Conventional measures of innovation suggest that only big cities foster new ideas, but a more comprehensive measure developed at Penn State shows that innovation is widespread even in rural places not typically thought of as innovative.

Scaling up search for analogies could be key to innovation
Investment in research is at an all-time high, yet the rate of scientific breakthroughs isn't setting any records.

Why you should be concerned about Oprah Winfrey when introducing an innovation
New research by Bocconi University's Paola Cillo and Gaia Rubera with Texas A&M's David Griffith asserts that the reaction of large individual investors to innovation is an important component of stock returns, their reaction to innovation depends on their national culture, and there is a way to segment large individual investors and pitch innovation to them accordingly.

Responsible innovation key to smart farming
Responsible innovation that considers the wider impacts on society is key to smart farming, according to academics at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Pillars of academic innovation
Highlights from the Sixth Annual Conference of the National Academy of Inventors, including high-tech solutions to combat child pornography and radicalization materials; groundbreaking programs to promote STEM major retention; and new materials for wearable technology.

Universities drive innovation in the classroom
The current issue of Technology and Innovation, Journal of the National Academy of Inventors ® (19.2) examines innovation from the university perspective, highlighting what the most innovative institutions and educators worldwide are doing to prepare future engineers and industry leaders to effectively manage IP to grow their companies and the global economy as a whole.

How universities are fostering innovation and entrepreneurship
Technology and Innovation 19.1 zeroes in on innovation and entrepreneurship, with a special focus on what universities are currently doing to foster growth in those areas both for their success and the success of the communities and regions to which they are connected.

Shaping the future of health innovation
Future advances in healthcare will be aided by a new £10 million facility -- the National Institute for Health Research Innovation Observatory based at Newcastle University, UK.

Read More: Innovation News and Innovation Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to