EU Product Environmental Footprint: a more consistent LCA?


Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a powerful tool for assessing the large-scale and whole life cycle impacts and benefits of products.[1] A collection of environmental impact factors are tracked across the life cycle, from raw materials extraction through to end-of-life processing, be this recycling or disposal. However, while the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards for these calculations are well established and clearly defined, they are designed for a generic product, rather than for any specific product and therefore leave a lot open to the interpretation of the practitioner. Each LCA study can therefore describe its own system boundaries, assumptions and figures of merit. As a result, the many studies in the literature are inconsistent and difficult to compare against each other.[2] In addition, the unique features of a specific product may not be adequately captured in the generic calculations. For instance, batteries degrade under certain usage conditions, which can severely shorten their useful life, reducing their benefits. There is no guidance in the generic LCA standards for assessing this.

The European Commission has recognised these problems and has therefore introduced their Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) framework, which attempts to further standardise LCA studies, providing a more stringent set of rules for implementing a life cycle assessment and for gathering or selecting the input data. More specific guidance is provided through PEF Category Rules (PEFCR), defined for more specific products. For instance, batteries have a set of guidelines under the Battery PEFCR, which are being developed at present, with input from international battery experts. These guidelines underpin the new and upcoming EU regulations around sustainability-related disclosures and requirements for a minimum of recycled content to be used in producing new products, as well as the European Critical Raw Materials act.
This talk will highlight the differences between the traditional LCA standards and those defined under the new PEF and PEFCR system, using batteries as an example product. The talk will also cover potential drawbacks of the PEF framework, showing how there may still be potential for inconsistencies in future studies.

[1] Hellweg, S. and Milà i Canals, L., “Emerging approaches, challenges and
opportunities in life cycle assessment”, Science 344, 6188, 1109-1113 (2014)
[2] Peters, J.F. Best practices for life cycle assessment of batteries. Nat. Sustain. (2023).

Speaker summary


Jacqueline grew up in South Africa and completed first a B.Sc. in Zoology and then a B.Sc. in Computer Science, both at the University of Cape Town. This led to a career as an internet developer and, after moving to London, developing banking intranet tools. Since banking is not known for its social welfare activities, she decided to go back to study clean energy at UCL, starting with an M.Sc. in Nanotechnology and finally a Ph.D. in Hydrogen Storage. She ran the Energy Storage Research Network in the Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College London for four years, facilitating research collaborations in the growing area of energy storage. She is now a Faraday Institution Project Leader in the Mechanical Engineering Dept. of the College, managing a large research consortium on Multiscale Modelling of Li-ion Batteries and leading the sustainability modelling work.


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