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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Manufacturing organizations' environmental impacts are often attributable to processes in the firm’s upstream supply chain. Environmentally preferable procurement (EPP) and the establishment of environmental purchasing criteria can potentially reduce these indirect impacts. Life cycle assessment (LCA) can help identify purchasing criteria most effective in reducing environmental impacts. However, the high costs of LCA and problems associated with the comparability of results have limited efforts to integrate procurement performance with quantitative organizational environmental performance targets. Moreover, environmental purchasing criteria, when implemented, are often established on a product-by-product basis, without consideration of other products in the procurement portfolio. We develop an approach that utilizes streamlined LCA methods, together with linear programming, to determine optimal portfolios of product impact reduction opportunities under budget constraints. The approach is illustrated through a simulated breakfast cereal manufacturing firm procuring grain, containerboard boxes, plastic packaging, electricity, and industrial cleaning solutions. Results suggest that extending EPP decisions and resources to the portfolio level, recently made feasible through the methods illustrated herein, can provide substantially greater CO2e and water depletion reductions per dollar spend than a product-by-product approach, creating opportunities for procurement organizations to participate in firm-wide environmental impact reduction targets.
A new approach for quantifying the net environmental impact of a ‘community’ of interrelated products is demonstrated for consumer electronics owned by an average U.S. household over a 15-year period (1992-2007). This consumption-weighted life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology accounts for both product consumption (number of products per household) and impact (cumulative energy demand (MJ) per product), as analyzed using a hybrid LCA framework. While many individual devices have reduced impacts over time (on a ‘per product’ basis), increased usage, introduction of new technologies, and growing product consumption creates a net increase on a ‘per community’ basis. The net energy impact of the U.S. community of household electronics is significant, nearly 30% of the average annual fuel consumed by a passenger vehicle in 2007. The analysis points to a large contribution by legacy products (cathode ray tube televisions and desktop computers), due to historically high consumption rates, although impacts have begun to shift to smaller mobile devices. This method is also applied to evaluate prospective intervention strategies, indicating that environmental impact reduction can be achieved by strategies like lifespan extension or energy efficiency, but only when applied to all products owned, or by transforming consumption trends towards fewer, highly multi-functional products.