EME 807
Technologies for Sustainability Systems

2.0 Overview



In this lesson, we will discuss the role of technology in society and how it develops on its way to commercialization. You will review the technology readiness level (TRL) scale adopted by a number of government agencies and see what kind of information is needed to estimate it. This lesson also sets the background for using the life cycle assessment methodology (LCA), which allows us to view a bigger picture of a technological process, with its multiple pros and cons and impacts on other parts of a sustainability system. Life cycle assessment is a complex approach, which requires extensive data digging and process expertise. While you will not be asked to perform the complete analysis on your own, some LCA-related exercises in this lesson will help you develop a big-picture mindset about technologies and products. Both TRL and LCA assessment methodologies will be useful in your individual course project, so take notes of the resources provided on those topics.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • explain the role of technology in society and in feedback loops of anthropogenic systems;
  • articulate the technology readiness levels and identify the data needed for TRL analysis;
  • apply the fundamentals of the life cycle assessment (LCA) and draw LCA scope and flow diagrams.


Journal article: J.B. Guinee et al., Life Cycle Assessment: Past, Present, and Future, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2011, 45, 90-96. (see Canvas)

US EPA Document: Life Cycle Assessment: Principles and Practice, EPA/600/R-06/060, 2006.


If you have any questions while working through this Lesson, please post them to our Message Board forum in Canvas. You can use that space any time to chat about course topics or to ask questions. While you are there, please feel free to post your own responses if you are able to help out a classmate.