PCIM EUROPE 2023 KEYNOTE How life cycle analyses are influencing power electronics converter design
At PCIM 2023, Franz Musil, Power Electronics Engineer at Fronius International, explored the important role that life cycle analyses are playing in the design of power electronics converters, and how this can help to optimize product development practices and improve sustainability. Get the summary here!
The actions we take today will dramatically influence what the world will look like tomorrow. And today, as a society, we are facing one of our greatest challenges yet: global warming. We’re currently in the thick of what many experts are calling a climate crisis that is being exacerbated by the limited availability of critical resources on our planet. With a growing demand for these limited raw materials, waste is also a major issue.
At PCIM Europe 2023, Franz Musil, Power Electronics Engineer at Fronius International, delivered a keynote that explores the important role that life cycle analyses are playing in the design of power electronics converters, and how this is helping to inform better product development practices that are more sustainable and have a lesser impact on our planet.
What is life cycle analysis?
Life cycle analysis (LCA) is a sustainability assessment of ecological dimensions and has three pillars: people, profit, and the planet.
The people element concerns fair wages and working conditions, profit concerns economic sustainability and long-term product viability, and planet concerns the environmental impact of a product throughout its entire life cycle, the most common and well-known impact being a product’s carbon footprint which can be measured in a specific and accurate way.
In the keynote, Musil puts this into context by describing how at Fronius, considerations like power consumption during production, waste production, transportation to the customer, customer location, potential repairs, and whether the product can be recycled are all taken into account. This, he says, is important for evidence-based sustainability. “Every company claims to be green… or sustainable, but it [sic] really needs facts and evidence… to be transparent. Transparency is extremely important when it comes to sustainability.”
A robust LCA will have a comprehensive scope and purpose, with experts putting together a detailed product system model by considering the channels through which a finished product must travel. Information is collected to classify the materials, energies, and wastes of the processes associated with this product.
Watch the whole keynote here:
LCA of a PV inverter system
Musil uses the example of a life cycle analysis of a Symo Gen 24 Solar Inverter system during his keynote.
This starts with considering the bill of materials. In his example, the PV inverter system is made up of 2,500 pieces which come from over 400 different components. The LCA must therefore consider each of these components in turn.
The easiest way to get its environmental data would of course be to ask the supplier, however, as Musil explains, there’s currently a lack of environmental data for electronic components so suppliers are not usually in a position to provide it. The Fronius team instead used databases such as the Evoinvent 3.8 Database. “You can sometimes find values for the components or even for the processes that are needed to build the components in these databases,” explains Musil but of course, these are not the be-all-end-all.
To collect more data, the Fronius team disassembled the inverter and looked at the interior materials, and carried out a detailed analysis of components that contribute significantly to a product’s carbon footprint, such as those made with semiconductors or gold.
As Musil explains, it’s life cycle analyses like these that help to improve the processes by which power electronics products come to market. The inherent complexities of such electronic products make them excellent candidates for addressing areas of concern during production, which in turn can help us address the needs of tomorrow through optimized design.