, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 59-67
Date: 25 Oct 2004

Establishing Life Cycle Inventories of Chemicals Based on Differing Data Availability (9 pp)

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Abstract

Goal, Scope and Background

In contrast to inventory data of energy and transport processes, public inventory data of chemicals are rather scarce. Chemicals are important to consider in LCA, because they are used in the production of many, if not all, products. Moreover, they may cause considerable environmental impacts. For these reasons, it was one goal of the new ecoinvent database to provide LCI data on chemicals. In this paper, the methods and procedures used for establishing LCIs of chemicals in ecoinvent are presented.

Methods

Three different approaches are suggested for situations of differing data availability. First, in the case of good data availability, the general quality guidelines of ecoinvent can be followed. Second, a procedure is proposed for the translation of aggregated inventory data (cumulative LCI results) from industry into the ecoinvent format. This approach was used, if adequate unit process data was not available. Third, a procedure is put forward for estimating inventory data using stoichiometric equations from technical literature as a main information source. This latter method was used if no other information was available. The application of each of the three procedures is illustrated with the help of a case study.

Results and Conclusion

When sufficient information is available to follow the general guidelines of ecoinvent, the resulting dataset is characterized by a high degree of detail, and it is thus of high quality. For chemicals, however, the application of the standard procedure is possible in only a few cases. When using industrial data, the main drawback is the fact that those data are often available only as aggregated data, thus being out of tune with the quality guidelines of ecoinvent and its main aim, the harmonization of LCI data. As a third approach, the use of the stoichiometric reaction equation is used for the compilation of LCI datasets of chemicals. This approach represents an alternative to neglecting chemicals completely, but it contains a high risk to not consider important aspects of the life cycle of the respective substance.

Outlook

Further work in the area of chemicals should focus on an improvement of datasets, so far established by either of the two estimation procedures (APME method; estimation based on technical literature) described. Besides the improvement of already established inventories, the compilation of further harmonized inventories of specific types of chemicals (e.g. solvents) or of chemicals for new industrial sectors (e.g. electronics industry) are in discussion.