Life cycle assessment of the UK Space Energy Initiative technology roadmap

Wilson, Andrew R. and Vasile, Massimiliano and Oqab, Haroon B. (2022) Life cycle assessment of the UK Space Energy Initiative technology roadmap. In: 19th Reinventing Space Conference, 2022-11-28 - 2022-11-29.

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This paper aims to provide an overview of the environmental footprint of the U Space Energy Initiative (SEI) technology roadmap based on the CASSIOPeiA solar power satellite (SPS) system using the life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology. The information covers the time period from 2022 to 2080 and is relevant for five stratospheric SPS prototypes, five low Earth orbit (LEO) SPS prototypes and twenty-five full-scale CASSIOPeiA systems which are capable of generating 2 gigawatts (GW) of power each and delivering this directly to the grid. Each CASSIOPeiA system has been modelled on the assumption that it will operate at 2.45 gigahertz (GHz) with 4-sun CPV variant in geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) for an average lifetime of thirty years. Primary data was collected from the SEI Technical Working Group and is considered to be representative of the current SEI technology roadmap. This information was collected using a simple Excel Spreadsheet titled ‘SEI LCA 1.0’. The file contains relevant information pertinent to the content of this paper but was considered too large to attach as an annex. Despite this, it should be noted that whilst the majority of the collected data was considered to be robust and of a sufficiently high data quality, the manufacturing & production of the rectenna was mainly based on well-judged estimations and data extrapolations. The results indicate that the manufacturing & production of the offshore rectennas is a particular hotspot, drawing similarities to the findings of Wilson et al. (2020). This was mainly due to the significance of their size, which cover an area of 76.97 km2 each. More specifically, the most impacting area of the rectenna manufacturing & production is the turning and casting of aluminium, the turning of steel and the transmission network. However, based on a planetary boundary perspective, impacts stemming from ozone depletion and freshwater aquatic ecotoxicity may be considered as even more significant environmental hotspots. Moreover, since one of the main purposes of implementing this technology is to address climate change, this places an added importance on the Global Warming Potential (GWP) impact category. In this regard, for the stated time period, the life cycle carbon footprint of the SEI technology roadmap was found to be 3.22E+11 kg CO2 eq., which equates to 79.4% of the UK’s entire carbon footprint in 2020. However, considering the vast amount of energy delivered, this produces a value of 23.6 gCO2e/kWh which was found to be highly comparable with terrestrial-based energy systems and produces a carbon payback period of less than 6 years based on the current carbon intensity of the UK energy fuel mix. As such, the findings of this paper suggest that SEI technology roadmap provides a credible solution for the assisting UK efforts on net-zero commitments, at least from an environmental viewpoint. However, several design improvements could be made to lessen its environmental impact further. For this reason, several recommendations are outlined to assist in lowering the carbon footprint and making the system as eco-friendly as technically possible.