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"Beyond Life-Cycle Analysis: Developing a Better Tool for Simulating Policy Impacts" chapter 13 in Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways: A Research Summary for Decision Makers

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Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS)

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Suggested Citation:
Delucchi, Mark A. (2011) "Beyond Life-Cycle Analysis: Developing a Better Tool for Simulating Policy Impacts" chapter 13 in Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways: A Research Summary for Decision Makers. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, 278 - 295

As mentioned in this book’s introduction and illustrated in various chapters, life-cycle analysis (LCA) is a powerful method for evaluating and comparing fuel/vehicle pathways with respect to a set of sustainability metrics. For more than twenty years, analysts have used LCA to estimate emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the use of a wide range of transportation fuels. The distinguishing feature of LCA is that it considers all of the activities involved in producing, distributing, and using a product.

However, as commonly employed, LCA cannot accurately represent the impacts of complex systems, such as those involved in making and using biofuels for transportation. LCA generally
is linear, static, highly simplified, and tightly circumscribed, and the real world, which LCA attempts to represent, is none of these. In order to better represent the impacts of complex systems such as those surrounding biofuels, we need a different tool, one that has the central features of LCA but not the limitations. If this tool is to be relevant to policy making, it must start with the specification of a policy or action and end with the impacts on environmental systems.

We propose as a successor to LCA a method of analysis that combines integrated assessment modeling, life-cycle analysis, and scenario analysis. We call this method integrated modeling systems and scenario analysis (IMSSA). This chapter describes the key features of IMSSA for transportation fuels. Because IMSSA is meant to be a better model of reality than is conventional LCA, our discussion of IMSSA is a discussion of what an ideal model of reality looks like and how this differs from conventional LCA. We frame our discussion around the climate impact of biofuels because this is a particularly complex problem that nicely illustrates the deficiencies of conventional LCA.

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