The integration of environmental, social, and economic (ESE) objectives into business decisions and future planning is the path towards sustainable development. The goal of this paper is to address the environmental component of sustainable development within the automotive industry based on the Life Cycle Analysis and Well-to-Wheels approach.
Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is very relevant for making the concept of environmental sustainability operational because environmental impacts have to be examined from a 'cradle-to-grave' perspective. Life cycle analysis is an analytical tool that quantifies energy consumption and emissions associated with the raw material extraction, processing of materials, manufacturing, use phase, and end-of-life (reuse, recycling, and disposal) of products. The potential impact of current production and consumption patterns, on the future availability of non-renewable resources, can also be evaluated within the LCA framework. Thus, LCA provides an effective way for industry to support better management of natural resources, in order to maximize economic benefits and minimize environmental burdens.
Well-to-Wheel (WtW) analysis is a subset of a complete LCA because it quantifies the environmental burdens associated only with the fuel production and its consumption during the driving time of a vehicle. Well-to-Wheel studies mainly provide energy use and air emissions inventories.
This paper provides the results obtained from two major studies conducted at General Motors R&D Center. The first is a LCA study that assesses the environmental emissions associated with four alternative automotive paint processes and seven different paint formulations. The second is a WtW study that addresses 18 different combinations of alternative fuels and vehicle engines.
Considering that the use phase of the vehicle contributes more than 80% of its life cycle energy consumption, and that the automotive paint process is the most energy intensive component of the manufacturing phase in any given vehicle, the results presented in this paper are noteworthy for environmental sustainability considerations relevant to the automotive industry.