SUSTAINABILITY AND LIFE CYCLE RESEARCH
Professor Michael Overcash
REU Summer 2006
Our research team focuses on life cycle and sustainability projects and would like
to invite two REU students to join this effort. The projects are summarized below. All
projects share basic aspects of life cycle research,
1) a real world application
2) predominantly available data for research
3) an opportunity to quantitatively incorporate life cycle thinking into sustainable
The progress in our research group is steady and so our final selection of the two timeliest
projects will wait until just before the summer period. In addition, a set of life cycle
video lectures are available for each student to learn more quickly the principles of this
Management view of life cycle in carpet products. Carpet is a complex structure
with a substantial supply chain. We have developed life cycle inventory data for three
carpet types and now seek to perturb these models as a means to assess sensitivity of the
environmental footprint to engineering and management changes. This project will take
the macro life cycle model already developed and examine the effects of sustainability
improvement ideas. Graphical depiction is important in this project for the management
participation in life cycle thinking.
Health care garments These products are widely used as a barrier from infection
in hospitals and long-term care facilities. The use of biocidal chemical moieties attached
to the polyester and cotton woven or nonwoven garment is an innovative product under
research with NSF support. The chemical and product development are underway at UC
Davis. Our collaboration is in understanding the environmental footprint of these
products (reusable versus disposable) using life cycle tools. This project will examine
another effect of biocidal intervention – the reduction in hospital-acquired infections.
Again, we seek the environmental consequences of reduced hospital-acquired infections
in terms of practical items such as syringes, testing, food, electricity, garments, drugs that
must be administered over prolonged hospital stays because of infections. Assembly of
life cycle data and preparation of estimates will allow a greater life cycle assessment of
these health care garments designed to reduce infections.
Pharmaceutical drugs Typical treatment drugs are very complex products, often
involving 150-200 chemical plants working along a supply chain to produce a drug. We
have previously developed the full life cycle database for two drugs. However, these
were done in different systems. This project will verify, test for completeness, and
reformulate these complex life cycle profiles into a common data and graphical system.
Then we can test the environmental response of these large life cycle models (some of the
largest in the world) to changes at different levels of complexity.
Chemical purity tradeoffs As industry pushes toward higher and higher purity of
input chemicals, the goal has often been to reduce waste associated with contaminants.
This is a sustainability or green chemistry objective. However, the overall life cycle
environmental picture can be different. The processes to make higher purity chemicals
also require more energy and produce different wastes. This project will use life cycle
thinking to compare the overall environmental consequences of higher purity chemicals.
Information on processes is available for nitrogen and other semiconductor production
gases. A study will be made of the processes and energy needed to achieve multiple
levels of purity and to assess the trade-offs being made.
Biotechnology and life cycle An integral part of chemical engineering,
especially at NCSU is the use of biobased processes to move toward sustainability. Life
cycle is the tool most frequently used to quantify such environmental benefits. This
project will initiate a biotechnology database for life cycle inventory of bioprocessing-
related materials. Candidates for the database are bioprocess inputs, reactor media and
supplemental agents, products, and specialized processing equipment. All bio-related life
cycle inventories are to be assembled and put in an accessible form. A catalogue will be
prepared for use by the NCSU bio tech commitment.
Mentors for these projects include
Evan Griffing, Yong Li, Celia Ponder, and Professor Overcash