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Life cycle assessment of construction materials: the influence of assumptions in end-of-life modelling
RISE, SP – Sveriges Tekniska Forskningsinstitut, SP Hållbar Samhällsbyggnad.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3536-7895
Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.
Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.
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.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014. Vol. 19, no 4, p. 723-731
National Category
Natural Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:ri:diva-6612DOI: 10.1007/s11367-013-0686-xScopus ID: 2-s2.0-84898770390Local ID: 16227OAI: oai:DiVA.org:ri-6612DiVA, id: diva2:964451
Available from: 2016-09-08 Created: 2016-09-08 Last updated: 2019-08-12Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Life cycle assessment in the development of forest products: Contributions to improved methods and practices
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Life cycle assessment in the development of forest products: Contributions to improved methods and practices
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
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:nbn:se:ri:diva-30234 (URN)978-91-7597-163-6 (ISBN)
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

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