Skip to main content

Assessment of Decarbonizing Rapidly-Growing Technological Systems with a Life-Cycle Perspective

Jiajia Zheng, PhD Candidate, Bren School

Jun 1 2021 | 12:00pm PDT Online

Headshot of Jiajia Zheng
Jiajia Zheng




Advisor: Sangwon Suh
Committee: Ranjit Deshmukh, Eric Masanet, Mahnoosh Alizadeh

Join at this link using passcode life-cycle


As increasingly more severe consequences from climate change are observed, a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy is imperative worldwide. However, certain technological systems can be a significant challenge in meeting global decarbonization targets, due to their large-scale production and consumption as well as rapid growth. In this dissertation, I assess the opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from such systems through three case studies using a life-cycle approach. In the first chapter, I quantify the global carbon footprint of plastics and evaluate the potentials of four different emissions mitigation strategies, namely demand reduction, renewable energy, recycling, and bio-based plastics. Renewable energy is found to be pivotal in reducing the carbon footprint, but it has an inherent problem of variability. The second chapter moves on to evaluate the potential of load migration between data centers to mitigate renewable curtailment and GHG emissions while examining the abatement cost. In the third chapter, I assess the life-cycle cost and carbon emissions of optimized residential solar-plus-storage systems, and analyze how key factors such as Time-of-Use tariff design, marginal emission rates, capital cost and embodied emissions of battery storage affect the results. Using a holistic, life-cycle perspective, this dissertation provides valuable insights on how to develop, deploy, and manage rapidly-growing technologies in a way that minimizes their climate change impacts.


Prior to coming to Bren, Jiajia earned two Bachelor's degrees in Environmental Engineering and Economics from Wuhan University, and a Master's degree from Fudan University in China. She then worked for two years at ExxonMobil (lubricants) in both technical and business positions. During her PhD program, Jiajia focuses on climate change mitigation research by applying life cycle assessment and carbon footprint accounting. Her work has been published in high-impact journals including Nature Climate Change and Joule, which received extensive media coverage. Upon graduation, Jiajia will join Amgen, a leading biotech company, as a Senior Engineer on Environmental Sustainability.

arrow up icon