A systematic approach to assess the environmental impact of emerging technologies: A case study for the GHG footprint of CIGS solar photovoltaic laminate

van der Hulst, M. et al (2020). “A systematic approach to assess the environmental impact of emerging technologies: A case study for the GHG footprint of CIGS solar photovoltaic laminate.” Journal of Industrial Ecology 03 July 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/jiec.13027 [open access]

Abstract: Estimating the environmental impact of emerging technologies at different stages of development is uncertain but necessary to guide investment, research, and development. Here, we propose a systematic procedure to assess the future impacts of emerging technologies. In the technology development stage (technology readiness level < 9), the recommended experience mechanisms to take into account are (a) process changes, (b) size scaling effects, and (c) process synergies. These developments can be based on previous experience with similar technologies or quantified through regression or engineering dimension calculations. In the industrial development phase, (d) industrial learning, based on experience curves or roadmaps, and (e) external developments should be included. External developments, such as changes in the electricity mix can be included with information from integrated assessment models. We show the applicability of our approach with the greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint evaluation for the production of copper indium gallium (di)selenide (CIGS) photovoltaic laminate. We found that the GHG footprint per kilowatt peak of produced CIGS laminate is expected to decrease by 83% going from pilot to mature industrial scale production with the largest decrease being due to expected process changes. The feasibility of applying our approach in practice would greatly benefit from the development of a database containing information on size scaling and experience rates for a wide variety of materials, products, and technologies.

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