From producing raw materials to recycling: To compute a vehicle’s ecological consequences in a life cycle assessment (LCA), IAV’s experts need to look at the entire product life cycle. Ever more challenging statutory requirements are increasingly moving the subject into the focus. Dr Bernd Becker, head of department Vehicle energy management explains in the interview how IAV draws up life cycle assessment.
Dr Becker, what makes assessing sustainability such a topical issue?
Becker: Because it has an impact on the automotive industry’s general conditions and hence also on advance engineering activities. Today already, the end-of-life vehicle directive forces manufacturers to carry out a life cycle assessment. The future will doubtlessly see the addition of further demands on sustainability because pressure from the public is and remains high on this point. “Eco innovations”, for example, are a case in point. The question is of how far they should be considered in computing fleet consumption. Analyzing their sustainability provides the basis. Another aspect comes in the form of biofuels and evaluating them.
How long has evaluating sustainability been on the agenda at IAV?
Becker: We have been focusing attention on it since we set up IAV’s Advanced development section. Because the sustainability of products is determined at a very early stage – when the fundamental technological decisions are made. This is why we analyze the potential of new vehicles and take the LCA results as a monitor for evaluating the various options. At the moment, for example, we are advising a client on how to select new materials for engine design. Besides this, we are also looking at the environment and focusing attention on things like producing raw materials or alternative fuels.
Have LCA evaluation methods reached perfection?
Becker: Yes, they have, and they are being refined all the time. We ourselves use standard tools and processes that simulate impacts on the environment in line with the standards – for instance, to assess materials. We use various databases that provide us with information on defining technologies for all phases of the life cycle. This includes emissions from producing raw materials and while the vehicle is being used just as it does on the ecological consequences of recycling.
Which environmental impacts are you looking at?
Becker: There are various parameters summarized in an LCA. Aside the greenhouse effect from CO2 or other greenhouse gases, the environment is also affected by acidification, overfertilization, summer smog, ozone depletion and contamination as well as the consumption of energy, water and land. So, analyzing sustainability involves a whole raft of aspects. Finding the best solution means making a compromise – e.g. between low CO2 emissions and minimum acidification. This is a matter of statutory requirements and our customers’ particular priorities.
What exactly is your approach to evaluating sustainability?
Becker: We use parts lists, for example, with weights and materials to determine the ecological impact. But details from manufacturers on their production processes also play a key part. And during service life, we look at a drive system’s efficiency, this being based on a specific cycle, like the WLTC, as well as future usage scenarios. Our life cycle assessment under ISO 14040 follows the principle of cradle to grave.
What can IAV offer its clients on this front?
Becker: We have the expertise in the entire vehicle and in our work we engage in dialog with the company’s other divisions. This network of experts is one of IAV’s tremendous strengths and without doubt a USP in our life cycle assessment.