A novel application in the field of Life Cycle Assessment is presented that investigates optimal vehicle retirement timing and design life. This study integrates Life Cycle Energy Analysis (LCEA) with Dynamic Replacement Modeling and quantifies the energy tradeoffs between operating an older vehicle versus replacing it with a new more energy efficient model. The decision to keep or replace a vehicle to minimizes life cycle energy consumption is influenced by several factors including vehicle production energy, current vehicle's fuel economy and its deterioration with age, the improvement in fuel economy technology of new model vehicles and annual vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Model simulations explore vehicle replacement under incremental improvements in vehicle technology and leapfrog technology improvements such as with the PNGV (Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles).
Federal standards that mandate improved fuel economy have resulted in the increased use of lightweight materials in automotive applications. However, the environmental burdens associated with a product extend well beyond the use phase. Life cycle assessment is the science of determining the environmental burdens associated with the entire life cycle of a given product from cradle-to-grave. This report documents the environmental burdens associated with every phase of the life cycle of two fuel tanks utilized in full-sized 1996 GM vans. These vans are manufactured in two configurations, one which utilizes a steel fuel tank, and the other a multi-layered plastic fuel tank consisting primarily of high density polyethylene (HDPE). This study was a collaborative effort between GM and the University of Michigan's National Pollution Prevention Center, which received funding from EPA's National Risk Management Research Laboratory.