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Life cycle assessment in green chemistry: overview of key parameters and methodological concerns

  • Linda M. Tufvesson
  • Pär Tufvesson
  • John M. Woodley
  • Pål Börjesson
LCA IN GREEN CHEMISTRY

Abstract

Purpose

Several articles within the area of green chemistry often promote new techniques or products as ‘green’ or ‘more environmentally benign’ than their conventional counterpart although these articles often do not quantitatively assess the environmental performance. In order to do this, life cycle assessment (LCA) is a valuable methodology. However, on the planning stage, a full-scale LCA is considered to be too time consuming and complicated. Two reasons for this have been recognised, the method is too comprehensive and it is hard to find inventory data. In this review, key parameters are presented with the purpose to reduce the time-consuming steps in LCA.

Methods

In this review, several LCAs of so-called ‘green chemicals’ are analysed and key parameters and methodological concerns are identified. Further, some conclusions on the environmental performance of chemicals were drawn.

Results and discussion

For fossil-based platform chemicals several LCAs exists but for chemicals produced with industrial biotechnology or from renewable resources the number of LCAs is limited, with the exception of biofuels, for which a large number of studies are made. In the review, a significant difference in the environmental performance of bulk and fine chemicals was identified. The environmental performance of bulk chemicals are closely connected to the production of the raw material and thereby different land use aspects. Here, a lot can be learnt from biofuel LCAs. In many of the reviewed articles focusing on bulk chemicals a comparison regarding fossil and renewable raw material was done. In most of the comparisons the renewable alternative turned out to be more environmentally preferable, especially for the impact on GWP and energy use. However, some environmental concerns were identified as important to include to assess overall environmental concern, for example eutrophication and the use of land.

Conclusions

To assess the environmental performance of green chemicals, quantitative methods are needed. For this purpose, both simple metrics and more comprehensive methods have been developed, one recognised method being LCA. However, this method is often too time consuming to be valuable in the process planning stage. This is partly due to a lack of available inventory data, but also because the method itself is too comprehensive. Here, key parameters for the environmental performance and methodological concerns were described to facilitate a faster and simpler use of LCA of green chemicals in the future.

Keywords

Biocatalysis Bulk chemicals Fine chemicals GHG LCA Renewable resources Simplified LCA Sustainable chemistry Yield 

Notes

Acknowledgement

This work was a part of the research programme Bioraffinaderi Öresund, and we gratefully acknowledge the financial support provided by Interreg.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Linda M. Tufvesson
    • 1
  • Pär Tufvesson
    • 2
  • John M. Woodley
    • 2
  • Pål Börjesson
    • 1
  1. 1.Environmental and Energy System Studies, Department of Technology and SocietyLund UniversityLundSweden
  2. 2.Center for Process Engineering and Technology, Department of Chemical and Biochemical EngineeringTechnical University of DenmarkLyngbyDenmark

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