Abstract: The transition away from fossil resources for producing fuels and chemicals is underway with initiatives and policies that support electrification, biofuels, and recycling of plastics. This presentation will describe the use of three analytical tools - life cycle analysis (LCA) coupled with scenario analysis, social LCA, and material flow analysis – to establish guideposts and guardrails towards reducing fossil energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from energy and material systems. These tools are applied to three case studies to illustrate how they can inform policy development, provide warning of potential negative effects of new technologies, and guide researchers towards innovations that will have impact. The first examines use of LCA coupled with scenario analysis to explore the extent to which co-deploying biofuels and electrification in hard-to-decarbonize sectors such as marine, aviation, and heavy duty transportation can increase greenhouse gas reductions compared to an approach that prioritizes electrification alone. Sweeping electrification strategies have implications for the communities that mine the metals used in batteries. The second case study explores whether we can quantify these impacts with social LCA to help guide policy and technology development. The final case study examines how material flow analysis of polyurethane can point towards opportunities to reduce fossil fuel consumption through recycling and increasing bio-based content for this type of plastics. Taken together, these case studies illustrate the role of a suite of sustainability analyses that can guide and support public and private sector efforts to decarbonize.
Bio: Dr. Jennifer Dunn is an Associate Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Northwestern University. She holds a courtesy appointment in Mechanical Engineering. Jennifer is Associate Director of the Northwestern-Argonne Institute of Science and Engineering and the Associate Director of Northwestern’s Center for Engineering Sustainability and Resilience. Jennifer studies emerging technologies, their energy and environmental impacts, and their potential to influence greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions, water consumption, and energy consumption at the economy-wide level. Particular technologies of interest include biofuels and bioproducts, automotive lithium-ion batteries, waste plastics recycling and utilization, advanced manufacturing, and fuels and chemicals made from natural gas liquids. Techno-economic, life cycle, and material flow analyses are primary tools in her research. Furthermore, she applies machine learning techniques to gain insights into land use and land use change, which drive the sustainability debate surrounding biofuels. Jennifer holds a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan where she was introduced to life cycle analysis through earning her Master’s degree in Sustainable Chemical Engineering Systems. Her undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering is from Purdue University. Prior to joining Northwestern, she led the Biofuels Analysis group at Argonne National Laboratory and managed Argonne’s relationship with DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office. She has also worked at URS Corporation (now AECOM) including a one-year secondment in Brussels, Belgium and at U.S. EPA Region 5 in Chicago. She is raising her two sons with her husband near where she grew up; her eldest son is now attending the high school that is her alma mater.