Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Plastic and Steel Vehicle Fuel Tanks
Federal standards that mandate improved fuel economy have resulted in the increased use of lightweight materials in automotive applications. However, the environmental burdens associated with a product extend well beyond the use phase. Life cycle assessment is the science of determining the environmental burdens associated with the entire life cycle of a given product from cradle-to-grave. This report documents the environmental burdens associated with every phase of the life cycle of two fuel tanks utilized in full-sized 1996 GM vans. These vans are manufactured in two configurations, one which utilizes a steel fuel tank, and the other a multi-layered plastic fuel tank consisting primarily of high density polyethylene (HDPE). This study was a collaborative effort between GM and the University of Michigan's National Pollution Prevention Center, which received funding from EPA's National Risk Management Research Laboratory.