Determining environmental sensitivities and uncertainties of alternative fuelled, advanced technology and conventional road vehicles using life cycle assessment

Author: Ali Murshed

Murshed, Ali, 2021 Determining environmental sensitivities and uncertainties of alternative fuelled, advanced technology and conventional road vehicles using life cycle assessment, Flinders University, College of Science and Engineering

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The Australian road vehicles, including conventional internal combustion engine running on petrol or diesel, is considered one of the main sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and environmental air pollution globally. Any methods that could be developed to improve environmental performance, thereby reducing GHG emissions, energy demand, particulate matter and human toxicity from vehicle emissions, can greatly benefit society globally. With the advent of alternative fuels and vehicles, new methods to evaluate their environmental benefits need to be developed. Life cycle assessment (LCA) has gone a long way to ensure that environmental evaluations of all types of vehicles and fuels are performed on a consistent, whole-of-life basis. However, a rigorous analysis of the input data for these LCA evaluations, plus their relatability and sensitivity to the results produced, needs to be undertaken to ensure that society, industry and government can make informed decisions based on the analysis of sound and reliable data. This thesis aims to:

1. examine the GHG emissions, particulate matter and human toxicity-cancer and non-cancer of transportation over a vehicle’s lifetime using the life cycle assessment (LCA) method

2. examine the uncertainty of the input data for LCA evaluations

3. examine the sensitivity of the input data for LCA evaluations

4. apply the results from 1– 3 to a case study

5. make recommendations regarding how LCA can be used to evaluate conventional and alternative vehicle types to ensure a reduction of GHG and toxic emissions.

Internal combustion engine vehicle exhaust emissions are regulated by governments worldwide, and due to this important point, the environmental impact assessment of transportation, including passenger vehicles, public transport buses and heavy-duty truck vehicles is examined over vehicles’ lifetimes. Given the recent uptake of alternative vehicles and fuels, there is now a requirement for vehicles’ environmental impact to be examined over its lifetime. This thesis examines the environmental impact assessment of the road transport sector in Australia. Decision-makers should heed LCA methods in order to reduce the total effect of vehicle exhaust emissions on the environment and human health.

The LCA SimaPro software by PRe´ Consultants has been used to estimate the life cycle energy use and emissions of road transportation using the Australian National Life Cycle Inventory Database (AusLCI). Also, where possible, the case studies developed used Australian emissions sources, detailing the fuel pathway, tailpipe emissions, vehicle manufacture, vehicle maintenance and vehicle disposal over a vehicle’s lifetime, as input for the LCA.

The thesis results indicate that advanced vehicle technologies and vehicles powered by alternative fuels are reducing energy use and emissions by 80%–90% compared to conventional internal combustion engine vehicles that are running on petrol or low sulphur diesel (LSD). Also, the results show that for most vehicles the major contributor to LCA energy use (ranging from 70%–90% of total LCA emissions) occurs during the vehicle operation phase. However, the contribution of the vehicles’ manufacture phase for advanced vehicle technologies is higher (up to 90% of total LCA emissions). Furthermore, although battery electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions, the power supply generation creates significant emissions to the environment because electricity is usually generated from non-renewable energy sources (fossil fuels) in Australia.

Additionally, biofuel vehicle LCA results reveal that high biofuel blends, including E85 and pure biodiesel, may be worse options due to the need to change the powertrain design. Consequently, the use of low biofuel blends, including E10 and BD5, is recommended to achieve lower vehicle exhaust emissions without changing the engine design.

In the case of vehicles’ environmental rating, the results indicate that advanced vehicles or vehicles powered by alternative fuels have higher overall ratings or stars (indicating a high ranking), while conventional vehicles have lower scores (indicating a low ranking).

Furthermore, this thesis uses the environmental impact of public buses (Department of Planning Transport and Infrastructure [DPTI] Trial Buses) in the city of Adelaide, South Australia as a case study. The results indicate that the 1905/micro hybrid bus uses significantly less energy and produces fewer GHG emissions and less air pollution compared to other bus models, including the conventional LSD bus, due to many factors, including low fuel usage, high engine efficiency, the driving cycle and driver skills/behaviour.

In addition, in order to demonstrate the accuracy and reliability of the data and methods used to model LCA, this thesis used sensitivity and uncertainty analysis techniques to ensure that the input data was sound and thus able to produce reliable LCA results. The results show that the data used to build LCA human toxicity-cancer and non-cancer is the most unreliable. Moreover, the study used sensitivity analysis to examine how these parameters impact the outcomes. The analyses also show that many parameters, including vehicle occupancy rate, fuel consumption, distance travelled, vehicle manufacture, average load and electricity consumption, significantly impact all LCA results.

Finally, regarding direction for future research, the life cycle of automotive technology should include fuel production, vehicle manufacture, operations and maintenance of the vehicle throughout its lifetime, in addition to scrappage and recycling. The case of an automobile using a new fuel, such as electricity, resulting in little to no air pollution per kilometre travelled but that has much higher environmental impacts when the vehicle is scrapped or recycled, demonstrates why LCA is essential.

Hence, an important objective of this thesis is to make the LCA process transparent and usable for policy analysts. This is important thanks to the advent of new information, and as future technologies develop, LCA needs to be robust and trusted to provide reliable results.

Keywords: Life Cycle Assessment, Environmental Impact Assessment, Transport Sector, Alternative Fuelled, Advanced Vehicle Technology, Conventional Road Vehicles, Environmental Rating Scores of Vehicles

Subject: Engineering thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Science and Engineering
Supervisor: Professor Rocco Zito