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An environmental and economic life cycle assessment of rooftop greenhouse (RTG) implementation in Barcelona, Spain. Assessing new forms of urban agriculture from the greenhouse structure to the final product level

Abstract

Purpose

Rooftop greenhouses (RTGs) are increasing as a new form of urban agriculture. Several environmental, economic, and social benefits have been attributed to the implementation of RTGs. However, the environmental burdens and economic costs of adapting greenhouse structures to the current building legislation were pointed out as a limitation of these systems in the literature. In this sense, this paper aims to analyse the environmental and economic performance of RTGs in Barcelona.

Methods

A real RTG project is here analysed and compared to an industrial greenhouse system (i.e. multi-tunnel), from a life cycle perspective. Life cycle assessment (LCA) and life cycle costing (LCC) methods are followed in the assessment. The analysis is divided into three parts that progressively expand the system boundaries: greenhouse structure (cradle-to-grave), at the production point (cradle-to-farm gate), and at the consumption point (cradle-to-consumer). The applied LCIA methods are the ReCiPe (hierarchical, midpoint) and the cumulative energy demand. A cost-benefit analysis (CBA) approach is considered in the LCC. For the horticultural activity, a crop yield of 25 kg · m−2 is assumed for the RTG reference scenario. However, sensitivity analyses regarding the crop yield are performed during the whole assessment.

Results and discussion

The greenhouse structure of an RTG has an environmental impact between 17 and 75 % higher and an economic cost 2.8 times higher than a multi-tunnel greenhouse. For the reference scenario (yield 25 kg · m−2), 1 kg of tomato produced in an RTG at the production point has a lower environmental impact (10–19 %) but a higher economic cost (24 %) than in a multi-tunnel system. At the consumption point, environmental savings are up to 42 % for local RTGs tomatoes, which are also 21 % cheaper than conventional tomatoes from multi-tunnel greenhouses in Almeria. However, the sensitivity assessment shows that the crop efficiency is determinant. Low yields can produce impacting and expensive vegetables, although integrated RTGs, which can take advantage from the residual energy from the building, can lead to low impacting and cheap local food products.

Conclusions

RTGs face law limitations that make the greenhouse structure less environmentally friendly and less economically competitive than current industrial greenhouses. However, as horticultural systems and local production systems, RTGs can become an environmentally friendly option to further develop urban agriculture. Besides, attention is paid to the crop yield and, thus, further developments on integrated RTGs and their potential increase in crop yields (i.e. exchange of heat and CO2 with the building) are of great interest.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank the architects and technical staff of H arquitectes for the information supplied, the Spanish Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (MINECO) for the financial support to the research project “Agrourban sustainability through rooftop greenhouses. Ecoinnovation on residual flows of energy, water and CO2 for food production” (CTM2013-47067-C2-1-R), and the Spanish Ministerio de Educación for awarding a research scholarship (AP2010-4044) to Esther Sanyé Mengual.

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Correspondence to Esther Sanyé-Mengual.

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Responsible editor: Niels Jungbluth

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Sanyé-Mengual, E., Oliver-Solà, J., Montero, J.I. et al. An environmental and economic life cycle assessment of rooftop greenhouse (RTG) implementation in Barcelona, Spain. Assessing new forms of urban agriculture from the greenhouse structure to the final product level. Int J Life Cycle Assess 20, 350–366 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-014-0836-9

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Keywords

  • Building-integrated agriculture
  • Industrial ecology
  • Local production
  • Rooftop farming
  • Urban agriculture