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Researchers Work on Using RFID to Calculate an Item's Carbon Footprint

The Bits to Energy Lab has developed a prototype system utilizing data collected via RFID to calculate an individual item's carbon footprint and display it on an RFID-enabled mobile phone.
By Rhea Wessel
"The EPC will generate lots of information that can be used to calculate the item-level footprint," Dada says. "Our job is to combine EPC item-level information and somehow match that to the methodology. For instance, we can find out which supply chains the product went through, and how much energy was used in that supply chain."

Ali Dada
Once EPC codes can be incorporated into methodologies, the researchers plan to make it possible for consumers to ascertain a product's carbon footprint by reading that product's RFID tag with a mobile phone's built-in Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID interrogator. In May 2008, at a conference in Sydney, Australia, Dada and his fellow researchers presented a paper on the concept and provided a basic demonstration of it. Using data saved on RFID tags, participants in the demonstration could read the information with mobile phones and obtain a better understanding of how the system will eventually work—that is, provide a carbon footprint for each individual product.

"This gives the consumer a chance to make multiple comparisons and reward the products with the lower dynamic footprints," Dada says. "Displaying and representing the data in a non-intrusive and easy-to-digest way sounds trivial, but it's hard to do."

The researchers say they are convinced that EPC, in general, will play a major role in item-level carbon footprinting, by combining data obtained from an EPC RFID system with carbon footprint data from numerous stakeholders. "[EPC RFID technology] already provides most of what we need," Staake notes. "The solution may be another field in the database. It's basically a jump-start toward carbon accounting. You would need something similar for carbon accounting."

Funding for the Bits to Energy Lab comes from several industry projects, including those sponsored by EPCglobal and private companies, which Staake declines to name.

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