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Identification of the main environmental challenges in a sustainability perspective for the automobile industry
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Urban Planning and Environment, Environmental Strategies.
2010 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (One Year)), 20 credits / 30 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

The aim of this master thesis is to identify and describe the type and extent of the environmental concerns attributed to the automobile sector. It is carried out as part of a project that aims to suggest a method for measuring and evaluating the environmental performance of companies by setting relevant and sector specific sustainability criteria. The automobile manufacturing industry has been selected as an example in that project and is the focus of this work as well. The methodology used consists of a combination of assessment tools and frameworks for identification, classification and evaluation of environmental impacts. The life cycle approach represents the first step of the method together with a framework which suggests four principles for a sustainable society. Then three classification categories are derived (emissions, land and biodiversity disturbances, and use of resources) and all data collected are assigned and classified according to them. The last step consists of the implementation of two ready-made weighting methods in order to prioritise the results and finally suggest the main ones.The overall results show that the greatest environmental challenge for the automobile sector is the depletion of non-renewable resources and in particular crude oil. The vast majority of oil is used during the utilization phase of the car in order for the lifetime energy demands to be covered. In addition, a variety of air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons but mainly carbon dioxide are emitted to the environment through the combustion of gasoline or diesel fuel contributing to significant impacts such as climate change, acidification, eutrophication etc. but also to respiratory and other effects on human health. Among the rest of the studied life cycle stages, raw material acquisition and processing is the second most important contributor to the impacts mentioned above. However, in terms of material efficiency it is shown that the sector has a reduced environmental impact in particular when it comes to the recycling of metals. Greater efforts should be made for plastic and other newly developed materials in order to reduce the waste stream and increase recycling possibilities. Consequently, there are different improvement options for the automobile industry that can compensate the environmental challenges identified in this study. Alternative fuel options can lead to energy and resource savings as well as emission reductions during the use phase. Substitution of heavier materials with lighter ones can improve fuel and material economy. And finally, increased recycling possibilities can lead to material and energy recovery but also to waste reduction. However, all alternatives should be further evaluated in a sustainability and life cycle perspective to measure the overall savings and also ensure that they are not introducing new problems for the sector.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
passenger cars, environmental performance, life cycle perspective
National Category
Environmental Engineering
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-64246OAI: diva2:483053
Available from: 2012-02-03 Created: 2012-01-24 Last updated: 2012-02-03Bibliographically approved

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