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Life Cycle Assessment of Automobile/Fuel Options

journal contribution
posted on 01.06.2002 by Heather Maclean, Lester B Lave

We examine the possibilities for a “greener” car that would use less material and fuel, be less polluting, and would have a well-managed end-of-life. Light-duty vehicles are fundamental to our economy and will continue to be for the indefinite future. Any redesign to make these vehicles greener requires consumer acceptance. Consumer desires for large, powerful vehicles have been the major stumbling block in achieving a “green car”. The other major barrier is inherent contradictions among social goals such as fuel economy, safety, low emissions of pollutants, and low emissions of greenhouse gases, which has led to conflicting regulations such as emissions regulations blocking sales of direct injection diesels in California, which would save fuel. In evaluating fuel/vehicle options with the potential to improve the greenness of cars [diesel (direct injection) and ethanol in internal combustion engines, battery-powered, gasoline hybrid electric, and hydrogen fuel cells], we find no option dominates the others on all dimensions. The principles of green design developed by Anastas and Zimmerman (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2003, 37, 94A−101A) and the use of a life cycle approach provide insights on the key sustainability issues associated with the various options.