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Journal Articles International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment Year : 2023

Life cycle assessment of ICT in higher education: a comparison between desktop and single-board computers

Abstract

Purpose Information and communications technology (ICT) plays a key role in higher education in improving the teaching process. Consequently, the environmental impacts associated with ICT are increasing, and innovative solutions must be deployed to reduce these impacts and increase students’ awareness. Single-board computers (SBCs) are promising because they rely on less materials and energy than desktop computers (PCs). But additional servers are required to perform large-scale computations. Hence, this paper aims at conducting comparative LCA between SBCs and PCs. Materials and methods The study is conducted in the context of a French engineering school with the following functional unit: “use 600 computers for 5 years in an engineering school.” Two scenarios are defined to fulfil this functional unit. Scenario 1 is the use of 600 PCs (current infrastructure), and scenario 2 is the use of 600 SBCs combined with 6 servers (alternative infrastructure). The analysis includes the materials manufacturing, assembly, packaging, transport, use and end-of-life of each device. Life cycle inventory (LCI) of the foreground systems was generated using a variety of sources: disassembly of computers, counting of electronic components, datasheets, estimations, etc. LCI of the background systems is taken from ecoinvent 3.5. The selected life cycle impact assessment methodology is ReCiPe 2016 midpoint, and computation of impacts is done with openLCA 1.10.3. Results and discussion Scenario 2 (SBCs + servers) generates 84 to 92% less impact than scenario 1 (PCs) in all categories. In terms of global warming, scenarios 1 and 2 generate 225 and 18 tCO2 eq per functional unit, respectively. This is explained by the large reduction in material and energy requirements for SBCs which is not counterbalanced by the servers. Equipment manufacturing accounts for the largest share of impacts in most categories for both scenarios (e.g., ~70% for global warming), followed by the use phase. This differs from the results found in the literature, as this study was conducted in the context of France, which has a low-carbon electricity mix. Conclusions Our analysis has shown that SBCs combined with servers reduce the carbon footprint and other environmental impacts of ICT infrastructure for higher education. This study provides an example of low tech-oriented solution for students. Other prospective solutions (e.g., use of laptops) should be extensively studied in the future. From an LCA point of view, updating the inventory data related to background processes for electronic components is a necessary step forward to improve the certainty of the results.
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Dates and versions

hal-03938948 , version 1 (14-01-2023)

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Philippe Loubet, Adrien Vincent, Annabelle Collin, Corinne Dejous, Anthony Ghiotto, et al.. Life cycle assessment of ICT in higher education: a comparison between desktop and single-board computers. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 2023, ⟨10.1007/s11367-022-02131-z⟩. ⟨hal-03938948⟩
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