Probabilistic graphical modeling as a use stage inventory method for environmentally conscious design



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Probabilistic graphical models (PGMs) provide the capability of evaluating uncertainty and variability of product use in addition to correlating the results with aspects of the usage context. Although energy consumption during use can cause a majority of a product's environmental impact, common practice is to neglect operational variability in life cycle inventories (LCIs). Therefore, the relationship between a product's usage context and its environmental performance is rarely considered in design evaluations. This dissertation demonstrates a method for describing the usage context as a set of factors and representing the usage context through a PGM. The application to LCIs is demonstrated through the use of a lightweight vehicle design example. Although replacing steel vehicle parts with aluminum parts reduces the weight and can increase fuel economy, the energy invested in production of aluminum parts is much larger than that of steel parts. The tradeoff between energy investment and fuel savings is highly dependent upon the vehicle fuel economy and lifetime mileage. The demonstration PGM is constructed from relating factors such as driver behavior, alternative driving schedules, and residential density with local conditional probability distributions derived from publicly available data sources. Unique scenarios are then assembled from sets of conditions on these factors to provide insight for sources of variance. The vehicle example demonstrated that implementation of realistic usage scenarios via a PGM can provide a much higher fidelity investigation of energy savings during use and that distinct scenarios can have significantly different implications for the effectiveness of lightweight vehicle designs. Scenarios with large families, for example, yield high energy savings, especially if the vehicle is used for commuting or stop-and-go traffic conditions. Scenarios of small families and efficient driving schedules yield lower energy savings for lightweight vehicle designs.