Download PDF
April 30, 2013

EPA Applies Life-Cycle Assessment to Nanoscale Technology

Lynn L. Bergeson

On April 30, 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Design for the Environment (DfE) announced the availability of the final report entitled Application of Life-Cycle Assessment to Nanoscale Technology: Lithium-ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles. The life-cycle assessment (LCA) was conducted by the DfE/Office of Research and Development (ORD) Li-ion Batteries and Nanotechnology Partnership. The Partnership conducted a screening-level LCA of currently manufactured lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery technologies for electric vehicles, and a next generation battery component that uses single-walled carbon nanotube technology. EPA states that the study demonstrates how the life-cycle impacts of an emerging technology and novel application of nanomaterials (i.e., the single-walled carbon nanotube technology anode) can be assessed before the technology is mature, and provides a benchmark for future LCAs of this technology. The final report’s key results and conclusions state: “In addition, the SWCNT nanotechnology applications assessed show promise for improving the energy density and ultimate performance of the Li-ion batteries in vehicles. However, the energy needed to produce these anodes in these early stages of development is significant (i.e., may outweigh potential energy efficiency benefits in the use stage). Over time, if researchers focus on reducing the energy intensity of the manufacturing process before commercialization, the overall environmental profile of the technology has the potential to improve dramatically.”