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Life cycle assessment in the development of forest products: Contributions to improved methods and practices
RISE - Research Institutes of Sweden, Bioeconomy, Biorefinery and Energy.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3536-7895
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The prospect of reducing environmental impacts is a key driver for the research and development (R&D) of new forest products. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is often used for assessing the environmental impact of such products, e.g. for the purpose of guiding R&D. The aim of this thesis is to improve the methods and practices of LCA work carried out in the R&D of forest products. Six research questions were formulated from research needs identified in LCA work in five technical inter-organisational R&D projects. These projects also provided contexts for the case studies that were used to address the research questions. The main contributions of the research are as follows:

Regarding the planning of LCA work in inter-organisational R&D projects, the research identified four characteristics that appear to be important to consider when selecting the roles of LCAs in such projects: (i) the project’s potential influence on environmental impacts, (ii) the degrees of freedom available for the technical direction of the project, (iii) the project’s potential to provide required input to the LCA, and (iv) access to relevant audiences for the LCA results.

Regarding the modelling of future forest product systems, it was found that (i) it is important to capture uncertainties related to the technologies of end-of-life processes, the location of processes and the occurrence of land use change; and (ii) the choice of method for handling multi-functionality can strongly influence results in LCAs of forest products, particularly in consequential studies and in studies of relatively small co-product flows.

Regarding the assessment of environmental impacts of particular relevance for forest products, it was found that using established climate impact assessment practices can cause LCA practitioners to miss environmental hot-spots and make erroneous conclusions about the performance of forest products vis-à-vis non-forest alternatives, particularly in studies aimed at short-term impact mitigation. Also, a new approach for inventorying water cycle alterations was developed, which made it possible to capture catchment-scale effects of forestry never captured before.

To connect the LCA results to global challenges, a procedure was proposed for translating the planetary boundaries into absolute product-scale targets for impact reduction, e.g. to be used for evaluating interventions for product improvements or for managing trade-offs between impact categories.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Gothenburg: Chalmers University of Technology , 2015. , p. 91
Series
Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola, ISSN 0346-718X ; 3844
Keywords [en]
R&D, LCA, Life cycle assessment, wood, forest product, forestry, impact assessment, scenario modelling, end-of-life modelling, allocation, multi-functional, planetary boundaries, life cycle inventory, life cycle impact assessment, environmental assessment
National Category
Engineering and Technology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:ri:diva-30234ISBN: 978-91-7597-163-6 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:ri-30234DiVA, id: diva2:1130008
Public defence
2015-04-29, KB-salen, Kemigården 4, Gothenburg, 10:25 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2017-08-08 Created: 2017-08-08 Last updated: 2018-08-17Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Making the most of LCA in technical inter-organisational R&D projects
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Making the most of LCA in technical inter-organisational R&D projects
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2014 (English)In: Journal of Cleaner Production, ISSN 0959-6526, E-ISSN 1879-1786, Vol. 70, p. 97–104-Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In technical Research and Development (R&D) projects, a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of the technology under development is sometimes carried out. Particularly in inter-organisational R&D projects, the roles of LCAs tend to be unclear and arbitrary, and as a consequence, LCA work is not adequately designed for the needs of the project. There is a need for research on how to choose an appropriate role for LCA in such projects and how to plan LCA work accordingly. We have identified some possible roles of LCA in inter-organisational R&D projects and used experiences from LCA work in different such projects to identify four project characteristics that are decisive for what roles the LCA can have. The project characteristics are: (i) the project's potential influence on environmental impacts, (ii) the degrees of freedom available for the technical direction of the project, (iii) the project's potential to provide required input to the LCA, and (iv) access to relevant audiences for the LCA results. We discuss how evaluation of these project characteristics can help project commissioners, project managers and LCA practitioners to deliberately choose appropriate roles of LCA in inter-organisational R&D projects and plan projects for efficient use of LCA.

National Category
Natural Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:ri:diva-6634 (URN)10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.01.094 (DOI)2-s2.0-84898924807 (Scopus ID)16714 (Local ID)16714 (Archive number)16714 (OAI)
Available from: 2016-09-08 Created: 2016-09-08 Last updated: 2019-08-09Bibliographically approved
2. Life cycle assessment of construction materials: the influence of assumptions in end-of-life modelling
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Life cycle assessment of construction materials: the influence of assumptions in end-of-life modelling
2014 (English)In: The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, ISSN 0948-3349, E-ISSN 1614-7502, Vol. 19, no 4, p. 723-731Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose: The nature of end-of-life (EoL) processes is highly uncertain for constructions built today. This uncertainty is often neglected in life cycle assessments (LCAs) of construction materials. This paper tests how EoL assumptions influence LCA comparisons of two alternative roof construction elements: glue-laminated wooden beams and steel frames. The assumptions tested include the type of technology and the use of attributional or consequential modelling approaches. Methods: The study covers impact categories often considered in the construction industry: total and non-renewable primary energy demand, water depletion, global warming, eutrophication and photo-chemical oxidant creation. The following elements of the EoL processes are tested: energy source used in demolition, fuel type used for transportation to the disposal site, means of disposal and method for handling allocation problems of the EoL modelling. Two assumptions regarding technology development are tested: no development from today's technologies and that today's low-impact technologies have become representative for the average future technologies. For allocating environmental impacts of the waste handling to by-products (heat or recycled material), an attributional cut-off approach is compared with a consequential substitution approach. A scenario excluding all EoL processes is also considered. Results and discussion: In all comparable scenarios, glulam beams have clear environmental benefits compared to steel frames, except for in a scenario in which steel frames are recycled and today's average steel production is substituted, in which impacts are similar. The choice of methodological approach (attributional, consequential or fully disregarding EoL processes) does not seem to influence the relative performance of the compared construction elements. In absolute terms, four factors are shown to be critical for the results: whether EoL phases are considered at all, whether recycling or incineration is assumed in the disposal of glulam beams, whether a consequential or attributional approach is used in modelling the disposal processes and whether today's average technology or a low-impact technology is assumed for the substituted technology. Conclusions: The results suggest that EoL assumptions can be highly important for LCA comparisons of construction materials, particularly in absolute terms. Therefore, we recommend that EoL uncertainties are taken into consideration in any LCA of long-lived products. For the studied product type, LCA practitioners should particularly consider EoL assumptions regarding the means of disposal, the expected technology development of disposal processes and any substituted technology and the choice between attributional and consequential approaches.

National Category
Natural Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:ri:diva-6612 (URN)10.1007/s11367-013-0686-x (DOI)2-s2.0-84898770390 (Scopus ID)16227 (Local ID)16227 (Archive number)16227 (OAI)
Available from: 2016-09-08 Created: 2016-09-08 Last updated: 2019-08-12Bibliographically approved
3. Allocation in LCAs of biorefinery products: implications for results and decision-making
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Allocation in LCAs of biorefinery products: implications for results and decision-making
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2015 (English)In: Journal of Cleaner Production, ISSN 0959-6526, E-ISSN 1879-1786, Vol. 93, p. 213-221Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) of biorefinery products, a common challenge is the choice of method for allocating environmental burdens of multifunctional processes (feedstock cultivation and biorefinery processes), a choice which can substantially influence LCA results and hence decision-making. The aim of this paper is to explore how this choice influences results and in which decision contexts the choice is particularly important. To do this, we tested six allocation methods in a case study of a biorefinery using pulpwood as feedstock. Tested methods included: main product bears all burden, substitution, traditional partitioning methods (based on economic value and exergy), a hybrid method combining elements of substitution and partitioning, and an alternative hybrid method developed by us, which allocates less environmental burden to co-products with a high potential to mitigate environmental burdens. The methods were tested in relation to decision contexts and LCA questions of relevance for biorefineries.

The results indicate that the choice of allocation method deserves careful attention, particularly in consequential studies and in studies focussed on co-products representing relatively small flows. Furthermore, the alternative hybrid allocation method is based on a logical rationale – favouring products with higher substitution potential – and has some other potential benefits. However, in cases where the scales of co-product flows are of different orders of magnitude, the method yields extreme results that could be difficult to interpret. Results also show that it can be important with consistent allocation for both cultivation and biorefinery processes, particularly when substitution is applied.

Keywords
Life cycle assessment, Multifunctional, Forest, Forestry, Bio-based, Hybrid allocation
National Category
Natural Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:ri:diva-6771 (URN)10.1016/j.jclepro.2015.01.013 (DOI)2-s2.0-84926228144 (Scopus ID)19133 (Local ID)19133 (Archive number)19133 (OAI)
Available from: 2016-09-08 Created: 2016-09-08 Last updated: 2020-01-13Bibliographically approved
4. Climate impact assessment in life cycle assessments of forest products: Implications of method choice for results and decision-making
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Climate impact assessment in life cycle assessments of forest products: Implications of method choice for results and decision-making
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2016 (English)In: Journal of Cleaner Production, ISSN 0959-6526, E-ISSN 1879-1786, Vol. 116, p. 90-99Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

As life cycle assessments are often conducted to provide decision support, it is important that impact assessment methodology is consistent with the intended decision context. The currently most used climate impact assessment metric, the global warming potential, and how it is applied in life cycle assessments, has for example been criticised for insufficiently accounting for carbon sequestration, carbon stored in long-lived products and timing of emission. The aim of this study is to evaluate how practitioners assess the climate impact of forest products and the implications of method choice for results and decision-making. To identify current common practices, we reviewed climate impact assessment practices in 101 life cycle assessments of forest products. We then applied identified common practices in case studies comparing the climate impact of a forest-based and a non-forest-based fuel and building, respectively, and compared the outcomes with outcomes of applying alternative, non-established practices. Results indicate that current common practices exclude most of the dynamic features of carbon uptake and storage as well as the climate impact from indirect land use change, aerosols and changed albedo. The case studies demonstrate that the inclusion of such aspects could influence results considerably, both positively and negatively. Ignoring aspects could thus have important implications for the decision support. The product life cycle stages with greatest climate impact reduction potential might not be identified, product comparisons might favour the less preferable product and policy instruments might support the development and use of inefficient climate impact reduction strategies.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Elsevier, 2016
Keywords
Environment, Life cycle assessment, LCA, Environmental assessment, Carbon footprint, Wood, Forest, Carbon model, Forest model, Global warming, Climate change, Carbon, Fuel, Biofuel, Construction, Building, GWP, GWPbio, Climate impact assessment, Decision making, Carbon storage, sequestration, albedo, land use change, LUC, indirect land use change, ILUC, System boundaries, Spatial, Temporal, Time horizon, End of life, Soil disturbance, Aerosol, Concrete, Timber, Dynamic LCA, Literature review
National Category
Engineering and Technology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:ri:diva-29994 (URN)10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.01.009 (DOI)2-s2.0-84992255018 (Scopus ID)
Available from: 2017-06-27 Created: 2017-06-27 Last updated: 2020-01-30Bibliographically approved
5. Moving down the cause-effect chain of water and land use impacts: An LCA case study of textile fibres
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Moving down the cause-effect chain of water and land use impacts: An LCA case study of textile fibres
2013 (English)In: Resources, Conservation and Recycling, ISSN 0921-3449, E-ISSN 1879-0658, Vol. 73, p. 104–113-Article in journal (Refereed) Published
National Category
Natural Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:ri:diva-6465 (URN)15317 (Local ID)15317 (Archive number)15317 (OAI)
Available from: 2016-09-08 Created: 2016-09-08 Last updated: 2018-08-17Bibliographically approved
6. Using the planetary boundaries framework for setting impact-reduction targets in LCA contexts
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Using the planetary boundaries framework for setting impact-reduction targets in LCA contexts
2015 (English)In: The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, ISSN 0948-3349, E-ISSN 1614-7502, Vol. 20, no 12, p. 1684-1700Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose

The planetary boundaries (PBs) framework suggests global limits for environmental interventions which could be used to set global goals for reducing environmental impacts. This paper proposes a procedure for using such global goals for setting impact-reduction targets at the scale of products for use, for example, in life cycle assessment (LCA) contexts, e.g. as a basis for evaluating the potential of interventions to reduce the environmental impact of products.

Methods

The procedure consists of four steps: (i) identifying the PBs quantified in literature that correspond to an impact category which is studied in the product assessment context in question; (ii) interpreting what the identified PBs imply in terms of global impact-reduction targets; (iii) translating the outcome of (ii) to reduction targets for the particular global market segment to which the studied product belongs; and (iv) translating the outcome of (iii) to reduction targets for the studied product. The procedure requires some assumptions and value-based choices—the influence of these is tested by applying the procedure in a specific LCA context: a study of Swedish clothing consumption.

Results and discussion

The application of the procedure in an LCA context suggested the need for eliminating all or nearly all impact of Swedish clothing consumption for most impact categories. Thus, it is improbable that a single type of impact-reduction intervention (e.g. technological development or changed user behaviour) is sufficient. The outcome’s strong dependence on impact category suggests that the procedure can help in prioritising among impact categories. Furthermore, the outcome exhibited a strong dependence on the chosen method for allocating the globally allowed impact between regions—this was tested by applying different principles identified in a literature review on the allocation of emissions rights. The outcome also strongly depended on the geographical scope—this was tested by changing the geographical scope from Sweden to Nigeria.

Conclusions

The proposed procedure is feasible to use for LCA practitioners and other environmental analysts, and data is available to apply the procedure in contexts with different geographical scopes. Value-based choices are, however, unavoidable and significantly influence the outcome, which accentuates the subjectivity and potentially controversial nature of allocating a finite impact space to certain regions, market segments and products. How to match PBs with appropriate LCA impact categories is an important area for future research.

Keywords
Clothing, Apparel, Distance-to-target, Ecological threshold, Ethics, Life cycle assessment, Goal formulation, Safe operating space
National Category
Natural Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:ri:diva-6922 (URN)10.1007/s11367-015-0984-6 (DOI)2-s2.0-84947488707 (Scopus ID)30866 (Local ID)30866 (Archive number)30866 (OAI)
Available from: 2016-09-08 Created: 2016-09-08 Last updated: 2020-01-31Bibliographically approved

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