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The influence of system boundaries and baseline in climate impact assessment of forest products

  • Diego Peñaloza
  • Frida Røyne
  • Gustav Sandin
  • Magdalena Svanström
  • Martin Erlandsson
WOOD AND OTHER RENEWABLE RESOURCES
  • 147 Downloads

Abstract

Purpose

This article aims to explore how different assumptions about system boundaries and setting of baselines for forest growth affect the outcome of climate impact assessments of forest products using life cycle assessment (LCA), regarding the potential for climate impact mitigation from replacing non-forest benchmarks. This article attempts to explore how several assumptions interact and influence results for different products with different service life lengths.

Methods

Four products made from forest biomass were analysed and compared to non-forest benchmarks using dynamic LCA with time horizons between 0 and 300 years. The studied products have different service lives: butanol automotive fuel (0 years), viscose textile fibres (2 years), a cross-laminated timber building structure (50 years) and methanol used to produce short-lived (0 years) and long-lived (20 years) products. Five calculation setups were tested featuring different assumptions about how to account for the carbon uptake during forest growth or regrowth. These assumptions relate to the timing of the uptake (before or after harvest), the spatial system boundaries (national, landscape or single stand) and the land-use baseline (zero baseline or natural regeneration).

Results and discussion

The implications of using different assumptions depend on the type of product. The choice of time horizon for dynamic LCA and the timing of forest carbon uptake are important for all products, especially long-lived ones where end-of-life biogenic emissions take place in the relatively distant future. The choice of time horizon is less influential when using landscape- or national-level system boundaries than when using stand-level system boundaries and has greater influence on the results for long-lived products. Short-lived products perform worse than their benchmarks with short time horizons whatever spatial system boundaries are chosen, while long-lived products outperform their benchmarks with all methods tested. The approach and data used to model the forest carbon uptake can significantly influence the outcome of the assessment for all products.

Conclusions

The choices of spatial system boundaries, temporal system boundaries and land-use baseline have a large influence on the results, and this influence decreases for longer time horizons. Short-lived products are more sensitive to the choice of time horizon than long-lived products. Recommendations are given for LCA practitioners: to be aware of the influence of method choice when carrying out studies, to use case-specific data (for the forest growth) and to communicate clearly how results can be used.

Keywords

Biogenic carbon Carbon footprint Carbon storage Dynamic LCA Timing of emissions Wood-based product 

Abbreviations

CLT

Cross-laminated timber

CF

Characterisation factor

EU

European Union

GHG

Greenhouse gas

GWIrel

Cumulative climate impact relative to the impact of 1 kg CO2 emission at year 0

GWP

Global warming potential

iLUC

Indirect land-use change

IPCC

Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change

LCA

Life cycle assessment

PEF

Product environmental footprint

Notes

Acknowledgements

This publication is the result of a project carried out within the collaborative research program Renewable transportation fuels and systems (Förnybara drivmedel och system) [Project no. 39588-1]. The authors would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable input.

Funding information

The project has been financed by the Swedish Energy Agency and f3 – Swedish Knowledge Centre for Renewable Transportation Fuels (see www.f3centre.se/samverkansprogram). Additional work by the corresponding author has been carried out with financial support from Formas (project EnWoBio 2014-172).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11367_2018_1495_MOESM1_ESM.docx (673 kb)
Online resource 1 Electronic Supplementary Material for the article, including the life cycle inventory data for each of the forest product case studies and their benchmarks, and also including dynamic LCA results with an alternative indicator: Cumulative impact – GWIcum (W*m2) (DOCX 673 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.RISE—Research Institutes of SwedenGothenburgSweden
  2. 2.Division of Building Materials, Department of Civil and Architectural EngineeringKTH—Royal Institute of TechnologyStockholmSweden
  3. 3.Division of Environmental Systems AnalysisChalmers University of TechnologyGothenburgSweden
  4. 4.IVL—Swedish Environmental Research InstituteStockholmSweden

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