Coal Full Life Cycles Analysis
AUTHOR: Steve Mills
DATE: Septmeber 2005
This report examines the application of Life Cycle Analysis, particularly with respect to power generation cycles. Despite a number of acknowledged shortcomings, use of the technique has increased as improvements have continued to be made to its methodology and reliability. However, the process can be expensive and complex and care is required at various stages such that the conclusions reached can be viewed as credible and realistic. Decisions taken and assumptions made during the course of the study can significantly influence its outcome.
The examination of environmental burdens associated with power generation can be far from straightforward and such systems are viewed as being some of the most complex of all industrial applications addressed using LCA. Direct comparison between some types of generation technologies can be problematic, although comparing different fossil fuel fired systems is generally regarded as feasible, provided certain criteria are met. However, results are usually site-specific and not necessarily transferable between other locations or situations. Further, care must be taken such that exceptional cases are not portrayed as being typical of a particular technology.
Nonetheless, even where direct comparison is not feasible, one of the main benefits of LCA is that it can help identify and highlight the most polluting stages within individual processes, allowing the targeting of remedial actions. LCA only provides information on environmental impacts and where important decisions are to be made, it is best used in conjunction with other types of assessment system, thus gaining from the synergies created. This report looks at the use of LCA for examining the environmental impacts associated with both combustion and non-combustion stages that comprise the life cycles of a number of power generation technologies and examines its suitability for comparing such systems. The relative magnitude and contribution of individual stages on the overall environmental impact of a process is considered. LCA's weaknesses and strong points are discussed.