About this Research Topic
One of the most difficult challenges confronting humankind today is energy demand, for which ~80% are currently met through fossil-based fuels, and existing profiles reveal that the world remains highly dependent on them, resulting in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Given the well-established link between fossil fuel consumption, GHG emissions and climate change, meeting the energy demands of a rapidly growing world population will require major transformation of the global energy systems. It is estimated that about 25,000 GW of low-carbon energy will be needed by 2050 to accomplish the international community's ambition of reducing GHG emissions, to mitigate the pernicious effects of climate change. Current and emerging renewable and energy harvesting systems (e.g. indoor solar panels, wind turbine, batteries, thermoelectric devices etc.) are opening new frontiers and avenues that offers viable alternatives in the quest for low-carbon and non-fossil fuel energy generation. This is vividly reflected in the massive penetration of these technologies across the global markets, with beneficial impacts on the natural ecosystems. However, with these benefits comes the challenges associated with their intense raw material extraction requirements, environmental performance, complex manufacturing processes, materials criticality, and waste management, undermining their overall potentials towards mitigating climate change. As a result, a systematic assessment of their environmental profiles across their lifespan has become crucial. Sustainable engineering techniques such as lifecycle, techno-economic, input-output, material flow analyses etc. have since emerged as powerful tools that facilitate this assessment.
Sustainability profile assessment and evaluations of well-established energy harvesting technologies have been conducted due to the suitability of existing approaches, guidelines, and standards. However, techniques that are adequate for the assessment of emerging technologies with new materials architectures are nascent and fraught with methodological challenges. This is due to:
(i) the uncertainty that characterizes the process of using laboratory-scale fabrication routes to represent industrial-scale processes;
(ii) the difficulties in understanding their future landscape;
(iii) dearth of data;
(iv) lack of communications and collaborations between technology developers and sustainability modelers amongst others.
As such, the sustainability assessment results for emerging technologies must be cautiously managed in comparison to their well-established counterparts. Nevertheless, the application of sustainable engineering tools early in the development of these technologies can offer invaluable insights to assist research and development and policy initiatives towards identifying potential burdens, socio-environmental and resource implications, and other unforeseen consequences of technologies early in innovation. Parameterized models enabled by digital technologies including predictive analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence could facilitate accurate predictions of the environmental impacts of emerging technologies.
In light of the above, the goal of this Research Topic is to untangle the issues that exist at the intersection of the aforementioned themes by evaluating and assessing current and emerging trends in energy harvesting systems (both at materials and devices level), including performance, materials, economics, environmental, social, supply chains and policy considerations. Interdisciplinary submissions are encouraged as well as highly specialized, disciplinary research. Areas to be covered in this Research Topic may include, but are not limited to:
• Life cycle assessment (LCA), material flow analysis and environmental profile evaluations of current and emerging energy harvesting technologies with new material architecture
• Methodological advancement in LCA
• Development of parameterized models enabled by digital technologies (e.g. predictive analytics and AI/machine learning to facilitate accurate predictions of the LCA outputs
• Techno-economic analysis as well as ecological implications of the end-of-life interventions
• Scientific advances regarding the understanding of the ecological impacts and benefits of energy harvesting technologies
• The development of recycling and reuse programs that substantially reduce waste from high growth and penetration of the technologies
• Examination and evaluation of the tension between the potential use phase benefits of technologies and the corresponding environmental burden imposed due to their manufacturing and end of life scenarios
• Investigation on the requisite changes/systemic implications of business models and supply chains required to enable the adoption of the technologies
• Critical material supply chain risk assessment
• Policy levers to maximize the acceleration of the embrace of LCA to assess emerging energy harvesting technologies to facilitate effective environmental decision making
Original Research, Systematic/Critical Reviews, Methods, Perspectives, and Policy Briefs are strongly encouraged, particularly with quantitative analyses. Other article types may be considered.
Keywords: Climate change, Energy harvesting technologies, Sustainability, life cycle assessment, Material criticality, AI/Machine Learning, Supply chains, Policy analysis
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.