A hybrid life cycle assessment of water treatment chemicals: an Australian experience
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- Alvarez-Gaitan, J.P., Peters, G.M., Rowley, H.V. et al. Int J Life Cycle Assess (2013) 18: 1291. doi:10.1007/s11367-013-0574-4
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Life cycle assessment (LCA) of chemicals is usually developed using a process-based approach. In this paper, we develop a tiered hybrid LCA of water treatment chemicals combining the specificity of process data with the holistic nature of input–output analysis (IOA). We compare these results with process and input–output models for the most commonly used chemicals in the Australian water industry to identify the direct and indirect environmental impacts associated with the manufacturing of these materials.
We have improved a previous Australian hybrid LCA model by updating the environmental indicators and expanding the number of included industry sectors of the economy. We also present an alternative way to estimate the expenditure vectors to the service sectors of the economy when financial data are not available. Process-based, input–output and hybrid results were calculated for caustic soda, sodium hypochlorite, ferric chloride, aluminium sulphate, fluorosilicic acid, calcium oxide and chlorine gas. The functional unit is the same for each chemical: the production of 1 tonne in the year 2008.
Results and discussion
We have provided results for seven impact categories: global warming potential; primary energy; water use; marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecotoxicity potentials and human toxicity potential. Results are compared with previous IOA and hybrid studies. A sensitivity analysis of the results to assumed wholesale prices is included. We also present insights regarding how hybrid modelling helps to overcome the limitations of using IO- or process-based modelling individually.
Conclusions and recommendations
The advantages of using hybrid modelling have been demonstrated for water treatment chemicals by expanding the boundaries of process-based modelling and also by reducing the sensitivity of IOA to fluctuations in prices of raw materials used for the production of these industrial commodities. The development of robust hybrid life cycle inventory databases is paramount if hybrid modelling is to become a standard practice in attributional LCA.