Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Materials Science and Engineering (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Materials Science and Engineering


Joshua Pearce


This thesis is composed of three life-cycle analysis (LCA) studies of manufacturing to determine cumulative energy demand (CED) and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The methods proposed could reduce the environmental impact by reducing the CED in three manufacturing processes.

First, industrial symbiosis is proposed and a LCA is performed on both conventional 1 GW-scaled hydrogenated amorphous silicon (a-Si:H)-based single junction and a-Si:H/microcrystalline-Si:H tandem cell solar PV manufacturing plants and such plants coupled to silane recycling plants. Using a recycling process that results in a silane loss of only 17 versus 85 percent, this results in a CED savings of 81,700 GJ and 290,000 GJ per year for single and tandem junction plants, respectively. This recycling process reduces the cost of raw silane by 68 percent, or approximately $22.6 and $79 million per year for a single and tandem 1 GW PV production facility, respectively. The results show environmental benefits of silane recycling centered around a-Si:H-based PV manufacturing plants.

Second, an open-source self-replicating rapid prototype or 3-D printer, the RepRap, has the potential to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing of polymer-based products, using distributed manufacturing paradigm, which is further minimized by the use of PV and improvements in PV manufacturing. Using 3-D printers for manufacturing provides the ability to ultra-customize products and to change fill composition, which increases material efficiency. An LCA was performed on three polymer-based products to determine the CED and GHG from conventional large-scale production and are compared to experimental measurements on a RepRap producing identical products with ABS and PLA. The results of this LCA study indicate that the CED of manufacturing polymer products can possibly be reduced using distributed manufacturing with existing 3-D printers under 89% fill and reduced even further with a solar photovoltaic system. The results indicate that the ability of RepRaps to vary fill has the potential to diminish environmental impact on many products.

Third, one additional way to improve the environmental performance of this distributed manufacturing system is to create the polymer filament feedstock for 3-D printers using post-consumer plastic bottles. An LCA was performed on the recycling of high density polyethylene (HDPE) using the RecycleBot. The results of the LCA showed that distributed recycling has a lower CED than the best-case scenario used for centralized recycling. If this process is applied to the HDPE currently recycled in the U.S., more than 100 million MJ of energy could be conserved per annum along with significant reductions in GHG. This presents a novel path to a future of distributed manufacturing suited for both the developed and developing world with reduced environmental impact.

From improving manufacturing in the photovoltaic industry with the use of recycling to recycling and manufacturing plastic products within our own homes, each step reduces the impact on the environment. The three coupled projects presented here show a clear potential to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing and other processes by implementing complimenting systems, which have environmental benefits of their own in order to achieve a compounding effect of reduced CED and GHG.