Good background data are an important requirement in LCA. Practitioners generally make use of LCI databases for such data, and the ecoinvent database is the largest transparent unit-process LCI database worldwide. Since its first release in 2003, it has been continuously updated, and version 3 was published in 2013. The release of version 3 introduced several significant methodological and technological improvements, besides a large number of new and updated datasets. The aim was to expand the content of the database, set the foundation for a truly global database, support regionalized LCIA, offer multiple system models, allow for easier integration of data from different regions, and reduce maintenance efforts. This article describes the methodological developments.
Modeling choices and raw data were separated in version 3, which enables the application of different sets of modeling choices, or system models, to the same raw data with little effort. This includes one system model for Consequential LCA. Flow properties were added to all exchanges in the database, giving more information on the inventory and allowing a fast calculation of mass and other balances. With version 3.1, the database is generally water-balanced, and water use and consumption can be determined. Consumption mixes called market datasets were consistently added to the database, and global background data was added, often as an extrapolation from regional data.
Results and discussion
In combination with hundreds of new unit processes from regions outside Europe, these changes lead to an improved modeling of global supply chains, and a more realistic distribution of impacts in regionalized LCIA. The new mixes also facilitate further regionalization due to the availability of background data for all regions.
With version 3, the ecoinvent database substantially expands the goals and scopes of LCA studies it can support. The new system models allow new, different studies to be performed. Global supply chains and market datasets significantly increase the relevance of the database outside of Europe, and regionalized LCA is supported by the data. Datasets are more transparent, include more information, and support, e.g., water balances. The developments also support easier collaboration with other database initiatives, as demonstrated by a first successful collaboration with a data project in Québec. Version 3 has set the foundation for expanding ecoinvent from a mostly regional into a truly global database and offers many new insights beyond the thousands of new and updated datasets it also introduced.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Amor MB, Gaudreault C, Pineau P-O, Samson R (2014) Implications of integrating electricity supply dynamics into life cycle assessment: a case study of renewable distributed generation. Renew Energ 69:410–419
Arvesen A, Hertwich E (2015) More caution is needed when using life cycle assessment to determine energy return on investment (EROI). Energ Policy 76:1–6
Bauer C, Hofer J, Althaus H-J, Del Duce A, Simons A (2015) The environmental performance of current and future passenger vehicles: life cycle assessment based on a novel scenario analysis framework. Appl Energy
Bouman EA, Ramirez A, Hertwich E (2015) Multiregional environmental comparison of fossil fuel power generation—assessment of the contribution of fugitive emissions from conventional and unconventional fossil resources. Int J Greenh Gas Con
Bourgault G, Lesage P, Samson R (2012) Systematic disaggregation: a hybrid LCI computation algorithm enhancing interpretation phase in LCA. Int J Life Cycle Assess 17:774–786
Cherubini F, Bargigli S, Ulgiati S (2009) Life cycle assessment (LCA) of waste management strategies: landfilling, sorting plant and incineration. Energy 34:2116–2123
Ciroth A, Muller S, Weidema B, Lesage P (2013) Empirically based uncertainty factors for the pedigree matrix in ecoinvent. Int J Life Cycle Assess. doi:10.1007/s11367-013-0670-5
Del Duce A, Gauch M, Althaus H-J (2014) Electric passenger car transport and passenger car life cycle inventories in ecoinvent version 3. Int J Life Cycle Assess. doi:10.1007/s11367-014-0792-4
Earles J, Halog A (2011) Consequential life cycle assessment: a review. Int J Life Cycle Assess 16:445–453
EC (2010) International Reference Life Cycle Data System (ILCD) Handbook—general guide for life cycle assessment—detailed guidance. European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Luxembourg
Ekvall T, Weidema BP (2004) System boundaries and input data in consequential life cycle inventory analysis. Int J Life Cycle Assess 9:161–171
Finnveden G (1999) Methodological aspects of life cycle assessment of integrated solid waste management systems. Resour Conserv Recycl 26:173–187
Frischknecht R et al (2005) The ecoinvent database: overview and methodological framework. Int J Life Cycle Assess 10:3–9
Heijungs R, Guinée J (2007) Allocation and ‘what-if’ scenarios in life cycle assessment of waste management systems. Waste Manage 27:997–1005
Henriksson P, Zhang W, Guinée JB (2015) Updated unit process data for coal-based energy in China including parameters for overall dispersions. Int J Life Cycle Assess 20:185–195
Hertwich E et al (2014) Integrated life-cycle assessment of electricity-supply scenarios confirms global environmental benefit of low-carbon technologies. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. doi:10.1073/pnas.1312753111
Hou Q, Mao G, Zhao L, Du H, Zuo J (2015) Mapping the scientific research on life cycle assessment: a bibliometric analysis. Int J Life Cycle Assess. doi:10.1007/s11367-015-0846-2
ISO (2006a) ISO 14040. Environmental management—life cycle assessment—principles and framework. International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO)
ISO (2006b) ISO 14044. Environmental management—life cycle assessment—requirements and guidelines. International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO)
Laurent A, Espinosa N (2015) Environmental impacts of electricity generation at global, regional and national scales in 1980–2011: what can we learn for future energy planning? Energy Environ Sci 8:689–701
Lesage P, Samson R (2013) The Quebec Life Cycle Inventory Database Project. Int J Life Cycle Assess. doi:10.1007/s11367-013-0593-1
Levova T (2013) Water Use Modelling With ecoinvent v3 Opens New Possibilities. LCA XIII, Orlando, September 30th - October 3rd 2013
Masanet E et al (2013) Life-cycle assessment of electric power systems. Annu Rev Environ Resour 38:107–136
Meinshausen I, Müller-Beilschmidt P, Viere T (2014) The EcoSpold 2 format—why a new format? Int J Life Cycle Assess. doi:10.1007/s11367-014-0789-z
Muller S, Lesage P, Ciroth A, Mutel C, Weidema B, Samson R (2014) The application of the pedigree approach to the distributions foreseen in ecoinvent v3. Int J Life Cycle Assess. doi:10.1007/s11367-014-0759-5
Mutel CL, Hellweg S (2009) Regionalized life cycle assessment: computational methodology and application to inventory databases. Environ Sci Technol 43:5797–5803
Mutel C, Pfister S, Hellweg S (2012) GIS-based regionalized life cycle assessment: how big is small enough? Methodology and case study of electricity generation. Environ Sci Technol 46:1096–1103
Mutel C, de Baan L, Hellweg S (2013) Two-step sensitivity testing of parametrized and regionalized life cycle assessments: methodology and case study. Environ Sci Technol 47:5660–5667
Nemecek T, Schnetzer J, Reinhard J (2014) Updated and harmonised greenhouse gas emissions for crop inventories. Int J Life Cycle Assess. doi:10.1007/s11367-014-0712-7
OGC (2014) KML—Keyhole Markup Language version 2.2. Open Geospatial Consortium, Wayland
Pehnt M, Oeser M, Swider DJ (2008) Consequential environmental system analysis of expected offshore wind electricity production in Germany. Energy 33:747–759
Pfister S, Koehler A, Hellweg S (2009) Assessing the environmental impacts of freshwater consumption in LCA. Environ Sci Technol 43:4098–4104
Potting J, Hauschild M (1997) Spatial differentiation in life-cycle assessment via the site-dependent characterisation of environmental impact from emissions. Int J Life Cycle Assess 2:209–216
Potting J, Hauschild M (2006) Spatial differentiation in life cycle impact assessment: a decade of method development to increase the environmental realism of LCIA. Int J Life Cycle Assess 11:11–13
Reinhard J, Zah R (2009) Global environmental consequences of increased biodiesel consumption in Switzerland: consequential life cycle assessment. J Clean Prod 17(suppl 1):S46–S56
Scharlemann JPW, Laurance WF (2008) Environmental science: how green are biofuels? Science 319:43–44
Simons A (2013) Road transport: new life cycle inventories for fossil-fuelled passenger cars and non-exhaust emissions in ecoinvent v3. Int J Life Cycle Assess. doi:10.1007/s11367-013-0642-9
Simons A, Bauer C (2012) Life cycle assessment of the European pressurized reactor and the influence of different fuel cycle strategies. Proc Inst Mech Eng, Part A: J Power Energy 226:427–444
Sternberg A, Bardow A (2015) Power-to-What?—environmental assessment of energy storage systems. Energy Environ Sci 8:389–400
Steubing B, Wernet G, Reinhard J, Bauer C, Moreno E (2016) The ecoinvent database version 3 (part II): analyzing LCA results and comparison to version 2. Int J Life Cycle Assess. doi:10.1007/s11367-016-1109-6
Stoessel F, Juraske R, Pfister S, Hellweg S (2012) Life cycle inventory and carbon and water foodprint of fruits and vegetables: application to a Swiss retailer. Environ Sci Technol 46:3253–3262
Suh S, Yang Y (2014) On the uncanny capabilities of consequential LCA. Int J Life Cycle Assess 19:1179–1184
Suh S, Leighton M, Tomar S, Chen C (2013) Interoperability between ecoinvent ver. 3 and US LCI database: a case study. Int J Life Cycle Assess. doi:10.1007/s11367-013-0592-2
Swiss Confederation (2014) SR 641.611 - Mineralölsteuerverordnung. Swiss Confederation, Bern
The ecoinvent LCA database, v3.1, “cut-off by classification” (2014) The ecoinvent center. www.ecoinvent.org
Tillman A-M (2000) Significance of decision-making for LCA methodology. Environ Impact Assess Rev 20:113–123
Tonini D, Hamelin L, Wenzel H, Astrup T (2012) Bioenergy production from perennial energy crops: a consequential LCA of 12 bioenergy scenarios including land use changes. Environ Sci Technol 46:13521–13530
Treyer K, Bauer C (2013) Life cycle inventories of electricity generation and power supply in version 3 of the ecoinvent database—part I: electricity generation. Int J Life Cycle Assess. doi:10.1007/s11367-013-0665-2
Treyer K, Bauer C (2014) Life cycle inventories of electricity generation and power supply in version 3 of the ecoinvent database—part II: electricity markets. Int J Life Cycle Assess. doi:10.1007/s11367-013-0694-x
Treyer K, Bauer C, Simons A (2014) Human health impacts in the life cycle of future European electricity generation. Energ Policy 74:S31–S44
Turconi R, Tonini D, Nielsen CFB, Simonsen CG, Astrup T (2014) Environmental impacts of future low-carbon electricity systems: detailed life cycle assessment of a Danish case study. Appl Energy 132:66–73
Volkart K, Bauer C, Boulet C (2013) Life cycle assessment of carbon capture and storage in power generation and industry in Europe. Int J Greenh Gas Con 16:91–106
von der Assen N, Jung J, Bardow A (2013) Life-cycle assessment of carbon dioxide capture and utilization: avoiding the pitfalls. Energy Environ Sci 6:2721–2734
Wegener Sleeswijk A, Heijungs R (2010) GLOBOX: a spatially differentiated global fate, intake and effect model for toxicity assessment in LCA. Sci Total Environ 408:2817–2832
Weidema B (2014) Has ISO 14040/44 failed its role as a standard for life cycle assessment? J Ind Ecol 18:324–326
Weidema B, Ekvall T, Heijungs R (2009) Guidelines for application of deepened and broadened LCA. ENEA, The Italian National Agency on new technologies, energy and the environment
Weidema BP et al (2013) Overview and methodology. Data quality guideline for the ecoinvent database version 3. The ecoinvent Centre, St. Gallen
Wernet G, Conradt S, Isenring H, Jiménez-González C, Hungerbühler K (2010) Life cycle assessment of fine chemical production: a case study of pharmaceutical synthesis. Int J Life Cycle Assess 15:294–303
Wernet G, Mutel C, Hellweg S, Hungerbühler K (2011) The environmental importance of energy use in chemical production. J Ind Ecol 15:96–107
Wernet G, Hellweg S, Hungerbühler K (2012) A tiered approach to estimate inventory data and impacts of chemical products and mixtures. Int J Life Cycle Assess 17:720–728
Yue D, You F, Darling SB (2014) Domestic and overseas manufacturing scenarios of silicon-based photovoltaics: life cycle energy and environmental comparative analysis. Sol Energy 105:669–678
Zamagni A, Guinée J, Heijungs R, Masoni P, Raggi A (2012) Lights and shadows in consequential LCA. Int J Life Cycle Assess 17:904–918
The authors would like to thank Tereza Levova, Sofia Parada Tur, Thomas Nemecek, Karin Treyer, Carl Vadenbo and especially Roland Hischier for their many contributions towards the development of ecoinvent version 3, as well as Gabor Doka for the original design of Fig. 5, which is reused here with permission.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Responsible editor: Rainer Zah
About this article
Cite this article
Wernet, G., Bauer, C., Steubing, B. et al. The ecoinvent database version 3 (part I): overview and methodology. Int J Life Cycle Assess 21, 1218–1230 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-016-1087-8
- Ecoinvent version 3
- Life cycle assessment (LCA)
- Life cycle inventory (LCI) database
- System model