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Concept: Life cycle assessment


An integrated approach is required to optimise fish farming systems by maximising output while minimising their negative environmental impacts. We developed a holistic approach to assess the environmental performances by combining two methods based on energetic and physical flow analysis. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a normalised method that estimates resource use and potential impacts throughout a product’s life cycle. Emergy Accounting (EA) refers the amount of energy directly or indirectly required by a product or a service. The combination of these two methods was used to evaluate the environmental impacts of three contrasting fish-farming systems: a farm producing salmon in a recirculating system (RSF), a semi-extensive polyculture pond (PF1) and an extensive polyculture pond (PF2). The RSF system, with a low feed-conversion ratio (FCR = 0.95), had lower environmental impacts per tonne of live fish produced than did the two pond farms, when the effects on climate change, acidification, total cumulative energy demand, land competition and water dependence were considered. However, RSF was clearly disconnected from the surrounding environment and depended highly on external resources (e.g. nutrients, energy). Ponds adequately incorporated renewable natural resources but had higher environmental impacts due to incomplete use of external inputs. This study highlighted key factors necessary for the successful ecological intensification of fish farming, i.e., minimise external inputs, lower the FCR, and increase the use of renewable resources from the surrounding environment. The combination of LCA and EA seems to be a practical approach to address the complexity of optimising biophysical efficiency in aquaculture systems.

Concepts: Energy, Natural environment, Salmon, Natural resource, Aquaculture, Life cycle assessment, Renewable resource, Aquaponics


Risk assessment (RA) and life cycle assessment (LCA) are two analytical tools used to support decision making in environmental management. This study reviewed 30 environmental assessment case studies that claimed an integration, combination, hybridization, or complementary use of RA and LCA. The focus of the analysis was on how the respective case studies evaluated emissions of chemical pollutants and pathogens. The analysis revealed three clusters of similar case studies. Yet, there seemed to be little consensus as to what should be referred to as RA and LCA, and when to speak of combination, integration, hybridization, or complementary use of RA and LCA. This paper provides clear recommendations toward a more stringent and consistent use of terminology. Blending elements of RA and LCA offers multifaceted opportunities to adapt a given environmental assessment case study to a specific decision making context, but also requires awareness of several implications and potential pitfalls, of which six are discussed in this paper. To facilitate a better understanding and more transparent communication of the nature of a given case study, this paper proposes a “design space” (i.e., identification framework) for environmental assessment case studies blending elements of RA and LCA. Thinking in terms of a common design space, we postulate, can increase clarity and transparency when communicating the design and results of a given assessment together with its potential strengths and weaknesses.

Concepts: Scientific method, Risk, Evaluation methods, Qualitative research, Case study, Impact assessment, Life cycle assessment, ISO 14000


Galicia is an Autonomous Community located in the north-west of Spain. As a starting point to implement mitigation and adaptation measures to climate change, a regional greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory is needed. So far, the only regional GHG inventories available are limited to the territorial emissions of those production activities which are expected to cause major environmental degradation. An alternative approach has been followed here to quantify all the on-site (direct) and embodied (indirect) GHG emissions related to all Galician production and consumption activities. The carbon footprint (CF) was calculated following the territorial life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology for data collection, that combines bottom-up and top-down approaches. The most up-to-date statistical data and life cycle inventories available were used to compute all GHG emissions. This case study represents a leap of scale when compared to existing studies, thus addressing the issue of double counting, which arises when considering all the production activities of a large region. The CF of the consumption activities in Galicia is 17.8 ktCO2e/year, with 88% allocated to Galician inhabitants and 12% to tourist consumption. The proposed methodology also identifies the main important contributors to GHG emissions and shows where regional reduction efforts should be made. The major contributor to the CF of inhabitants is housing (32%), followed by food consumption (29%). Within the CF of tourist consumption, the share of transport is highest (59%), followed by housing (26%). The CF of Galician production reaches 34.9 MtCO2e/y, and its major contributor is electricity production (21%), followed by food manufacturing (19%). Our results have been compared to those reported for other regions, actions aimed at reducing GHG emissions have been proposed, and data gaps and limitations identified.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Climate change, Spain, Natural gas, Galicia, Greenhouse gas, Life cycle assessment, Carbon footprint


The disposal of food waste is a large environmental problem. In the United Kingdom (UK), approximately 15 million tonnes of food are wasted each year, mostly disposed of in landfill, via composting, or anaerobic digestion (AD). European Union (EU) guidelines state that food waste should preferentially be used as animal feed though for most food waste this practice is currently illegal, because of disease control concerns. Interest in the potential diversion of food waste for animal feed is however growing, with a number of East Asian states offering working examples of safe food waste recycling - based on tight regulation and rendering food waste safe through heat treatment. This study investigates the potential benefits of diverting food waste for pig feed in the UK. A hybrid, consequential life cycle assessment (LCA) was conducted to compare the environmental and health impacts of four technologies for food waste processing: two technologies of South Korean style-animal feed production (as a wet pig feed and a dry pig feed) were compared with two widespread UK disposal technologies: AD and composting. Results of 14 mid-point impact categories show that the processing of food waste as a wet pig feed and a dry pig feed have the best and second-best scores, respectively, for 13/14 and 12/14 environmental and health impacts. The low impact of food waste feed stems in large part from its substitution of conventional feed, the production of which has substantial environmental and health impacts. While the re-legalisation of the use of food waste as pig feed could offer environmental and public health benefits, this will require support from policy makers, the public, and the pig industry, as well as investment in separated food waste collection which currently occurs in only a minority of regions.

Concepts: European Union, United Kingdom, Anaerobic digestion, Waste management, Recycling, Waste, Landfill, Life cycle assessment


Cultured, or in vitro, meat consists of edible biomass grown from animal stem cells in a factory, or carnery. In the coming decades, in vitro biomass cultivation could enable the production of meat without the need to raise livestock. Using an anticipatory life cycle analysis framework, the study described herein examines the environmental implications of this emerging technology and compares the results with published impacts of beef, pork, poultry, and another speculative analysis of cultured biomass. While uncertainty ranges are large, the findings suggest that in vitro biomass cultivation could require smaller quantities of agricultural inputs and land than livestock; however, those benefits could come at the expense of more intensive energy use as biological functions such as digestion and nutrient circulation are replaced by industrial equivalents. From this perspective, large-scale cultivation of in vitro meat and other bioengineered products could represent a new phase of industrialization with inherently complex and challenging trade-offs.

Concepts: Agriculture, Nutrition, Industrial Revolution, Meat, Livestock, Vegetarianism, Life cycle assessment, In vitro meat


Due to the increasing environmental impact of food production, carbon footprint as an indicator can guide farmland management. This study established a method and estimated the carbon footprint of grain production in China based on life cycle analysis (LCA). The results showed that grain production has a high carbon footprint in 2013, i.e., 4052 kg ce/ha or 0.48 kg ce/kg for maize, 5455 kg ce/ha or 0.75 kg ce/kg for wheat and 11881 kg ce/ha or 1.60 kg ce/kg for rice. These footprints are higher than that of other countries, such as the United States, Canada and India. The most important factors governing carbon emissions were the application of nitrogen fertiliser (8-49%), straw burning (0-70%), energy consumption by machinery (6-40%), energy consumption for irrigation (0-44%) and CH4 emissions from rice paddies (15-73%). The most important carbon sequestration factors included returning of crop straw (41-90%), chemical nitrogen fertiliser application (10-59%) and no-till farming practices (0-10%). Different factors dominated in different crop systems in different regions. To identity site-specific key factors and take countermeasures could significantly lower carbon footprint, e.g., ban straw burning in northeast and south China, stopping continuous flooding irrigation in wheat and rice production system.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Agriculture, United States, Nitrogen, Maize, Rice, Life cycle assessment, Paddy field


Biomass is generally believed to be carbon neutral. However, recent studies have challenged the carbon neutrality hypothesis by introducing metric indicators to assess the global warming potential of biogenic CO2 (GWPbio). In this study we calculated the GWPbio factors using a forest growth model and radiative forcing effects with a time horizon of 100 years and applied the factors to five life cycle assessment (LCA) case studies of bioproducts. The forest carbon change was also accounted for in the LCA studies. GWPbio factors ranged from 0.13-0.32, indicating that biomass could be an attractive energy resource when compared with fossil fuels. As expected, short rotation and fast-growing biomass plantations produced low GWPbio. Long-lived wood products also allowed more regrowth of biomass to be accounted as absorption of the CO2 emission from biomass combustion. The LCA case studies showed that the total life cycle GHG emissions were closely related to GWPbio and energy conversion efficiency. By considering the GWPbio factors and the forest carbon change, the production of ethanol and bio-power appeared to have higher GHG emissions than petroleum-derived diesel at the highest GWPbio.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Methane, Fossil fuel, Greenhouse gas, Emission standard, Global warming potential, Global warming, Life cycle assessment


We investigated the highest constant temperature at which actinopterygian fishes can complete their lifecycles, based on an oxygen supply model for cleavage-stage eggs. This stage is one of the most heat-sensitive periods during the lifecycle, likely reflecting the exhaustion of maternally supplied heat shock proteins without new production. The model suggests that average eggs would not develop normally under a constant temperature of about 36 °C or higher. This estimate matches published empirical values derived from laboratory and field observations. Spermatogenesis is more heat sensitive than embryogenesis in fishes, so the threshold may indeed be lower, at about 35 °C, unless actinopterygian fishes evolve heat tolerance during spermatogenesis as in birds. Our model also predicts an inverse relationship between egg size and temperature, and empirical data support this prediction. Therefore, the average egg size, and hence hatching size, is expected to shrink in a greenhouse world but a feeding function prohibits the survival of very small hatchlings, posing a limit to the shrinkage. It was once suggested that a marine animal community may be sustained under temperatures up to about 38 °C, and this value is being used, for example, in paleotemperature reconstruction. A revision of the value is overdue. (199/200).

Concepts: Scientific method, Mathematics, Temperature, Thermodynamics, Heat, Entropy, Heat shock protein, Life cycle assessment


Life cycle assessment (LCA) has been used widely to estimate the environmental implications of deploying algae-to-energy systems even though no full-scale facilities have yet to be built. Here, data from a pilot-scale facility using hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) is used to estimate the life cycle profiles at full scale. Three scenarios (lab-, pilot-, and full-scale) were defined to understand how development in the industry could impact its life cycle burdens. HTL-derived algae fuels were found to have lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than petroleum fuels. Algae-derived gasoline had significantly lower GHG emissions than corn ethanol. Most algae-based fuels have an energy return on investment between 1 and 3, which is lower than petroleum biofuels. Sensitivity analyses reveal several areas in which improvements by algae bioenergy companies (e.g., biocrude yields, nutrient recycle) and by supporting industries (e.g., CO2 supply chains) could reduce the burdens of the industry.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Gasoline, Natural gas, Recycling, Biofuel, Ethanol fuel, Greenhouse gas, Life cycle assessment


We present results of a life cycle assessment (LCA) of Marcellus shale gas used for power generation. The analysis employs the most extensive data set of any LCA of shale gas to date, encompassing data from actual gas production and power generation operations. Results indicate that a typical Marcellus gas life cycle yields 466 kg CO2eq/MWh (80% Confidence Interval: 450 - 567 kg CO2eq/MWh) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 224 gal/MWh (80% CI: 185 - 305 gal/MWh) of freshwater consumption. Operations associated with hydraulic fracturing constitute only 1.2% of the life cycle GHG emissions, and 6.2% of the life cycle freshwater consumption. These results are influenced most strongly by the estimated ultimate recovery (EUR) of the well and the power plant efficiency: increase in either quantity will reduce both life cycle freshwater consumption and GHG emissions relative to power generated at the plant. We conclude by comparing the life cycle impacts of Marcellus gas and U.S. coal: The carbon footprint of Marcellus gas is 53% (80% CI: 44 - 61%) lower than coal, and its freshwater consumption is about 50% of coal. We conclude that substantial GHG reductions and freshwater savings may result from the replacement of coal-fired power generation with gas-fired power generation.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Natural gas, Methane, Coal, Greenhouse gas, Life cycle assessment, Shale gas, Marcellus Formation