Life cycle sustainability assessment and circularity of geothermal power plants

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Geothermal power generation is expected to increase fivefold worldwide by 2040 compared to 2018. The upcoming growth of geothermal power plants (GPPs) requires assessments of its role in tackling climate change and other impacts within complex environmental, economic and social systems. This study presents the first literature review of GPPs, including comparisons among different GPP technologies, based on life cycle sustainability and circular economy perspectives. A total of 76 core literature studies on geothermal-related topics are reviewed, including technology choices, and critically discussed in terms of their environmental, economic, social and circular economy aspects. Firstly, seven life cycle environmental impact indicators (global warming, acidification, eutrophication, human toxicity, ozone depletion, photochemical oxidation, and cumulative energy demand) are compared both within GPP technologies and to other conventional electricity generation technologies (such as coal and hydro). Secondly, economic sustainability is considered via life cycle costing, and the results show that geothermal could be economically competitive when compared to solar photovoltaic (PV), hydro, and even wind energy sources. Thirdly, social aspects are discussed considering 15 articles that evaluated concerns such as public acceptance, technology safety and local employment rate, although none rigorously considered a life cycle approach. Lastly, a total of 12 articles were found linking the circular economy with GPPs and elaborating on some of the ‘9Rs’ framework. To improve the effectiveness of future research, studies should focus on fulfilling major data gaps in literature such as the lack of detailed documentation for specific materials and background process choices in life cycle assessment databases. The development of GPPs can be an important alternative in efforts to decrease climate change impacts and pursue cleaner energy sources in countries where geothermal energy is more easily available.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-156
JournalSustainable Production and Consumption
Early online date29 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2023


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