Social Life Cycle Assessment of Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles

Main Presenter: Sally K. Springer 

Co-Authors: Christina Wulf Petra Zapp

Various technologies are developed for a successful energy and mobility transition. Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) are one of them as hydrogen offers a cross-sectoral approach for the challenge of matching electricity generation and demand. In order to evaluate possible technical benefits, environmental, economic and social aspects must be taken into account. Although no direct carbon dioxide emissions originate from the use of hydrogen in fuel cells, environmental impacts occur during other parts of the life cycle. FCEVs for hydrogen mobility are in an early development stage leading to significantly higher costs than petrol vehicles with an internal combustion engine today. Even tough economies of scale might be expected, a deeper look is necessary to become acquainted with all possible costs. No less important, but often neglected, is the consideration of social aspects across different stakeholders. Possible risks and opportunities can be manifold and in addition they can
differ depending on regions and the nature of individual conditions.

The focus of this study is on social aspects, as this topic needs more attention. Thus, a complementary Social Life Cycle Assessment (SLCA) to existing Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) (Benitez, Wulf et al. 2020) and Life Cycle Costing (LCC) (Haase, Wulf et al. 2022) studies is the target of consideration. What exists already is a SLCA of a proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) (Bargiacchi, Campos-Carriedo et al. 2022).

In this study a SLCA is performed for a FCEV including PEMFC, hydrogen tank, battery, electric motor and glider and thus going beyond Bargiacchi, Campos-Carriedo et al. (2022). Germany is the main manufacturing country (Tier 1) except few parts that are produced in other countries. In this case Tier 2 suppliers are included in the underling cradle to gate scope.

The SLCA is in accordance with the new guidelines of UNEP (2020), following the Reference Scale Approach (Type 1). Indicators will be deduced from a literature review of SLCAs of hydrogen-centered energy technologies and the automotive sector as well as energy and automotive standards and reports e.g. of UN-Agencies like ILO and GRI. It is performed with the latest version of the PSILCA database (V3) with worker hours as an activity variable (Maister, Di Noi et al. 2020). Through this database approach, a hotspot analysis is undertaken. This can provide valuable insight into the social risks and opportunities associated with the production of FCEVs, which can then be the focus of subsequent consideration.

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