Use of LCA as a development tool within early research: challenges and issues across different sectors
- 1.4k Downloads
The aim of this paper is to highlight the challenges that face the use of life cycle assessment (LCA) for the development of emerging technologies. LCA has great potential for driving the development of products and processes with improved environmental credentials when used at the early research stage, not only to compare novel processing with existing commercial alternatives but to help identify environmental hotspots. Its use in this way does however provide methodological and practical difficulties, often exacerbated by the speed of analysis required to enable development decisions to be made. Awareness and understanding of the difficulties in such cases is vital for all involved with the development cycle.
This paper employs three case studies across the diverse sectors of nanotechnology, lignocellulosic ethanol (biofuel), and novel food processes demonstrating both the synergy of issues across different sectors and highlighting the challenges when applying LCA for early research. Whilst several researchers have previously highlighted some of the issues with use of LCA techniques at an early stage, most have focused on a specific product, process development, or sector. The use of the three case studies here is specifically designed to highlight conclusively that such issues are prevalent to use of LCA in early research irrespective of the technology being assessed.
Results and discussion
The four focus areas for the paper are system boundaries, scaling issues, data availability, and uncertainty. Whilst some of the issues identified will be familiar to all LCA practitioners as problems shared with standard LCAs, their importance and difficulty is compounded by factors distinct to novel processes as emerging technology is often associated with unknown future applications, unknown industrial scales, and wider data gaps that contribute to the level of LCA uncertainty. These issues, in addition with others that are distinct to novel applications, such as the challenges of comparing laboratory scale data with well-established commercial processing, are exacerbated by the requirement for rapid analysis to enable development decisions to be made.
Based on the challenges and issues highlighted via illustration through the three case studies, it is clear that whilst transparency of information is paramount for standard LCAs, the sensitivities, complexities, and uncertainties surrounding LCAs for early research are critical. Full reporting and understanding of these must be established prior to utilising such data as part of the development cycle.
KeywordsBiofuel Emerging technologies Food processing Life cycle assessment Nanotechnology Novel Scale-up
The authors would like to thank the funders of their individual research. This includes: EPSRC EP/H046305/1 Nano-Integration of Metal-Organic Frameworks and Catalysis for the Uptake and Utilisation of CO2 (Griffiths and McManus), BB/G01616X/1, BBSRC Centre For Sustainable Bioenergy (BSBEC): Programme 4: Lignocellulosic Conversion To Bioethanol (LACE) (Li and McManus), the DEFRA Link Food Quality and Innovation Programme on the Sustainable Emulsion Ingredients through Bio-Innovation (SEIBI), and the University of Bath, UK (Hetherington and McManus). Many thanks are also given to the reviewers for their input and constructive feedback in the synthesis and improvement of this article.
- Andersson K, Olssen T (1999) Including environmental aspects in production development: a case study of tomato ketchup. Food Sci Technol 32(3):134–141Google Scholar
- Breggin LK, Pendergrass J (2007) Where does the nano go? End-of-Life Regulation of Nanotechnologies. WashingtonGoogle Scholar
- Department for Transport (2012) Revised RTFO guidance. http://www.dft.gov.uk/publications/rtfo-guidance/
- EC (2003) End of life vehicle regulations. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2003/2635/contents/made
- EC (2006) Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment Regulations 2006. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2006/3289/contents/made
- EC (2009). Directive on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources and amending and subsequently repealing Directives 2001/77/EC and 2003/30/EC, Belgium: European Commission. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2009:140:0016:0062:EN:PDF
- Ekvall T, Weidema B (2004) System boundaries and input data in consequential life cycle inventory analysis. Int J Life Cycle Assess 9(3):161–171Google Scholar
- ELCD database (2012) http://lca.jrc.ec.europa.eu/lcainfohub/datasetArea.vm. Accessed 15 May 2012.
- Griffiths OG, Owen RE, O'Byrne JP, Mattia D, Jones M, McManus MC (2013b) Using life cycle assessment to measure the environmental performance of catalysts and directing research in the conversion of CO2 into commodity chemicals: a look at the potential for fuels from ‘thin-air’. RSC Advances. doi: 10.1039/C3RA41900B Google Scholar
- Gutowski TG, Liow JYH, Sekulic DP (2010) Minimum exergy requirements for the manufacturing of carbon nanotubes. 2010 I.E. Int. Symposium on Sustainable Systems & Technology (ISSST)Google Scholar
- Heinzle E, Weirich D, Brogli F, Hoffmann VH, Koller G, Verduyn MA, Hungerbühler K (1998) Ecological and economic objective functions for screening in integrated development of fine chemical processes. 1. Flexible and expandable framework using indices. Ind Eng Chem Res 37:3395–3407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- ISO 27687 (2008) Nanotechnologies—terminology and definitions for nano-objects—nanoparticle, nanofibre and nanoplate: 16Google Scholar
- Klopffer W (2007) Nanotechnology and life cycle assessment: synthesis of results obtained at a workshop, Washington DC, 2–3 October 2006Google Scholar
- Luttge R (2011) Microfabrication for industrial applications, 1st edn. William Andrew, Boston, pp 91–146Google Scholar
- Oberdoester G (2010) Nanotoxicology: an emerging discipline evolving from studies of ultrafine particles (vol 113, pg 823, 2005). Environ Health Persp 118(9):A380–A380Google Scholar
- Royal Society (2008) Sustainable biofuels prospects and challenges. Policy Document 01/08. ISBN 978 0 85403 662 2 http://royalsociety.org/uploadedFiles/Royal_Society_Content/policy/publications/2008/7980.pdf
- Tischner U, Masselter S, Hirschl B, German Umweltbundesamt (2000) How to do EcoDesign?: a guide for environmentally and economically sound design. Verlag form: Frankfurt am MainGoogle Scholar
- Tufvesson LM, Tufvesson P, Woodley JM, Börjesson P (2013) Life cycle assessment in green chemistry: overview of key parameters and methodological concerns. Int J Life Cycle Assess 18:431–444Google Scholar
- Wender B, Seager T (2011) Towards prospective life cycle assessment: single wall carbon nanotubes for lithium-ion batteries. 2011 I.E. Int. Symposium on Sustainable Systems & Technol. (ISSST)Google Scholar
- Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars (2011) Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies: a nanotechnology consumer products inventory. http://www.nanotechproject.org/inventories/consumer. 4 March 2011