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Life cycle inventory and carbon footprint assessment of wireless ICT networks for six demographic areas

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Journal Article

Ruiz, D., G. San Miguel, J. Rojo, J. G. Teriús-Padrón, E. Gaeta, M. T. Arredondo, J. F. Hernández, and J. Pérez. 2022. “Life Cycle Inventory and Carbon Footprint Assessment of Wireless ICT Networks for Six Demographic Areas.” Resources, Conservation and Recycling 176 (January): 105951.

The aim of this work is to quantify, assess, and identify hotspots in the environmental sustainability of newly constructed ICT networks designed to provide internet access (4 G LTE mobile technology) to regions still lacking this service. The analysis has been carried out on six demographic areas, from high-density urban and peri‑urban to remote rural, using ISO 14,040. A Dynamic Inventory Model (DIM) relating demographic/connectivity features with foreground material and energy inventories was validated using real data from Peru. The results showed carbon footprints between 81 and 103 kg CO2 eq./subscription/year, equivalent to 1.35 – 1.73 kg CO2 eq./Gb. Most of this (between 68 and 86%) correspond to end user devices, primarily in the form of embodied emissions. Operational emissions account for about one-third of the total and derive primarily from the electricity consumed by end user devices, and to a lower extent by access networks and data centers. Linear correlations were observed between operational - embodied carbon emissions and the number of subscribers. This trend was overturned in very small ICT networks designed to serve sparsely populated rural areas, due to higher energy consumption and carbon emissions per functional unit generated by access and IP network components. The robustness of these results was studied through sensitivity and uncertainty analyses.

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