Emergy-based life cycle assessment (Em-LCA) for sustainability appraisal of infrastructure systems: a case study on paved roads

Abstract

Civil infrastructure systems are critical assets that are subjected to damage, service-life deterioration, and increasing maintenance and rehabilitation cost. Effective infrastructure management and principles of sustainable development can help to find an optimal compromise between economic growth and environmental protection for all stakeholders. Colloquially, sustainability refers to meeting triple-bottom-line (TBL) performance objectives including environmental protection, economic prosperity, and social acceptability and equity as a result of short- and long-term policy decisions. In this paper, a comprehensive framework based on the integration of emergy synthesis and life cycle assessment (LCA) has been investigated for a public infrastructure system. The main purpose of the applied method, emergy-based LCA (Em-LCA), is to facilitate an informed decision making process for different asset management scenarios, by identifying and quantifying the attributes of TBL impacts over the life cycle of a civil infrastructure system. As a case study, Em-LCA framework has been applied to evaluate the sustainability of two different scenarios for a road construction project in interior British Columbia, Canada. The results indicate that Em-LCA offers a good understanding to address sustainability issues in infrastructure systems and provides quantitative and transparent results to facilitate informed decision making for asset management.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    Maximum power principal.

  2. 2.

    Donor-side perspective is based on the fact that the more energy, time, and materials that are "invested” in something, the greater its value (Brown and Ulgiati 1999).

  3. 3.

    Emergy algebra helps to avoid double counting and redundancy by distinguishing emergy value of natural resources and ecological services, and emergy value in labour and socio economic services.

  4. 4.

    Global biosphere emergy baseline is the total emergy driving the biogeosphere. So far a few different global biosphere emergy baselines have been suggested by emergy practitioners. In this research, the sum of solar, tidal, and deep heat sources consider to be equal to the value of 15.83E24 seJ/year as suggested by Odum (2000).

  5. 5.

    The PDF can be interpreted as the fraction of species that has a high probability of no occurrence in a region due to unfavorable conditions caused by acidification and eutrophication.

  6. 6.

    The total emergy driving the biogeosphere is the sum of solar, tidal, and deep heat sources totaling 15.83E24 seJ/year.

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Acknowledgments

The authors wish to thank James Kay for sharing valuable information related to the case study, and for his expert opinions. We would also like to acknowledge Aplin & Martin Consultants Ltd. for their support and assistance and for providing us with access to the case study data. In addition, research funding provided by National Science and Engineering Research Council and partial financial support from a UBC internal grant is also acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Rehan Sadiq.

Appendix

Appendix

See Appendix Figs. 3 and 4.

Fig. 3
figure3

Typical roadway cross section designed in ATHENA

Fig. 4
figure4

Road life cycle inventory

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Reza, B., Sadiq, R. & Hewage, K. Emergy-based life cycle assessment (Em-LCA) for sustainability appraisal of infrastructure systems: a case study on paved roads. Clean Techn Environ Policy 16, 251–266 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10098-013-0615-5

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Keywords

  • Sustainable infrastructure
  • Emergy
  • Life cycle assessment (LCA)
  • Road system