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Life cycle assessment

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Life Cycle Assessment Diagram

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a method used to estimate the total environmental impacts from producing a good or service. The full life cycle environmental impacts can be challenging to model, because modern production "pathways" can involve numerous interacting technologies, each of which can consume materials and energy that are themselves products of complex production processes. Our group aims to build rigorous, transparent models to allow for complete accounting of environmental impacts from energy technologies.

Our work focuses primarily on transportation fuels production from conventional and unconventional sources.  A major result from these studies has been estimates of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from different transportation fuel pathways. Other recent work has been performed on LCA of carbon dioxide capture technologies.

LCA of conventional fuels production

Conventional liquid fuels production technologies have traditionally been modeled using simple pathway averages in full-fuel-cyle LCA models (such as the GREET and GHGenius models).  While these pathway average emissions estimates are acceptable for the original uses of these LCA models, they are increasingly seen as too coarse for modern LCA applications, such as regulations that aim to reduce full-fuel-cycle emissions from transportation fuel pathways (e.g., California LCFS and EU Fuel Quality Directive).  For this reason, we have built the Oil Production Greenhouse Gas Emissions Estimator (OPGEE), a tool to compute GHG emissions from conventional oil pathways.

See more about this research on the OPGEE page.

LCA of unconventional fuels production

Unconventional liquid fuel sources are increasingly important, given the challenges associated with increasing depletion of conventional oil resources.  These unconventional fuel sources include bitumen deposits of Alberta and Venezuela, oil shale deposits of the Green River formation in Utah and Colorado, as well as shale oil and shale gas resources across North America.  Our work involves building LCA models to understand the environmental impacts of shifting to use of these unconventional sources and research in the energy and greenhouse gas impacts of fuel production from bitumen extracted from the Alberta oil sands is in  the 2014 update of GREET.

LCA of carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies

Recent work has examined carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) technologies to understand their full system energy efficiency and emissions.



*Brandt, A.R., M.S. Masnadi, J.G. Englander, J.G. Koomey, D. Gordon. Climate-wise oil choices in a world of oil abundanceEnvironmental Research Letters DOI: 10.1088/1748- 9326/aaae76

*Masnadi, M.S., D. Schunack, Y. Li, S.O. Roberts, A.R. Brandt, H.M. El-Houjeiri, S. Przesmitzki, M.Q. Wang. Well-to-refinery emissions and net-energy analysis of China?s crude-oil supply. Nature Energy. DOI: 10.1038/s41560-018-0090-7


Cooney, G., M. Jamieson, J. Marriott, J. Bergerson, A.R. Brandt, T.J. Skone. Updating the US life cycle GHG petroleum baseline to 2014 with projections to 2014 using open-source engineering-based models. Environmental Science & Technology DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b02819 

Wang, J., O'Donnell, J., Brandt, A.R. Potential solar energy use in the global petroleum sector (2017) Energy, 118, pp. 884-892. DOI: 10.1016/


*Brandt, A.R., T. Yeskoo, S. McNally, K. Vafi, S. Yeh, H. Cai, M.Q. Wang. Energy intensity and greenhouse gas emissions from tight oil production in the Bakken formationEnergy & Fuels. DOI: 10.1021/acs.energyfuels.6b01907 

Horner, R.M., Harto, C.B., Jackson, R.B., Lowry, E.R., Brandt, A.R., Yeskoo, T.W., Murphy, D.J., Clark, C.E. (2016) Water use and management in the Bakken shale oil play of North DakotaEnvironmental Science & Technology. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b04079.

*Sweeney Smith, S., A. Calbry-Muzyka, A.R. Brandt. Exergetic life cycle assessment including both inputs and pollutantsInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment. DOI: 10.1007/s11367-016-1118-5 

*Wang, J., A.R. Brandt, J. O’Donnell. Potential solar energy use in the global petroleum sector. Energy: The International Journal. DOI: 10.1016/ 


Brandt, A.R. (2015) Embodied energy and GHG emissions from material use in conventional and unconventional oil and gas operations.  Environmental Science & Technology. DOI:10.1021/acs.est.5b03540. 

Cai, H., Brandt, A.R., Yeh, S., Englander, J.G., Han, J., Elgowainy, A., Wang, M.Q. (2015) Well-to-Wheels greenhouse gas emissions of Canadian oil sands products: Implications for US petroleum fuelsEnvironmental Science & Technology. DOI:10.1021/acs.est.5b01255.

Englander, J.G., Brandt, A.R., Elgowainy, A., Cai, H., Han, J., Yeh, S., Wang, M.Q. (2015). Oil sands energy intensity assessment using facility-level data. Energy & Fuels. DOI: 10.1021/acs.energyfuels.5b00175

Wallington, T.J., Anderson, J.E., De Kleine, R.D., Kim, H.C., Maas H., Winkler, S.L., Brandt, A.R., Keoleian, G.A. (2015). When comparing alternative fuel-vehicle systems, life cycle assessment studies should consider trends in oil productionJournal of Industrial Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/jiec.12418


Brandt, A.R., Sun, Y., Vafi, K. (2014). Uncertainty in regional-average petroleum GHG intensities: Countering information gaps with targeted data gatheringEnvironmental Science & Technology. DOI: 10.1021/es505376t

Vafi, K., Brandt, A.R. (2014). Reproducibility of LCA models of crude oil productionEnvironmental Science & Technology. DOI: 10.1021/es501847p 

Vafi, K., Brandt, A.R. (2014). Uncertainty of oil field GHG emissions resulting from information gaps: A Monte Carlo approach. Environmental Science & Technology. DOI: 10.1021/es502107s

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