+47 51 87 50 86
+47 976 58 219
Life Cycle Analyses (LCA): A Way of Thinking – A New Way of Working
Life Cycle Analyses is needed to document that a product or service comply with sustainability goals. In NORCE we offer our competence to help businesses in the public and private sector in their transition to a sustainable future.
In the coming roll-out of the EU taxonomy, LCA of products and services is needed to document that a product or service comply with sustainability goals. Access to both private and public capital, to roll out sustainable technologies towards the net zero society, require solid documentation for corporates to be eligible under the corporate sustainability reporting directive.
A solid technical evaluation from an independent source will add credibility and strengthen the LCA analysis. NORCE have experience in techno-economic impact analyses and life cycle analyses and we want to offer this competence to help both businesses both in the public and private sector in their transition to a sustainable future.
What is a life cycle analysis?
Life cycle analysis (LCA) is a technique used to assess the environmental impact of a product or service from the moment it is extracted from raw materials, through its production and use, to its final disposal.
A complete LCA analysis provides a cradle-to-grave assessment of the whole value chain and has a well-defined description of its boundaries to the Earth system. LCA analyses can be performed via a series of commercial tools, but these are not a necessary criterion to perform a study according to the ISO standards 14040, 14044, and 14025 describing requirements and guidelines for executing such studies.
The LCA process typically involves four main steps:
In the goal and scope definition step where the objectives and boundaries of the study are determined (i.e., its frame to the outside world).
In the inventory analysis step, data is collected on the inputs and outputs of the product or system being studied. This includes a quantification of raw material extraction, energy use, and waste generation.
The impact assessment step, the environmental impacts of the product or system are calculated based on the inventory data. This includes assessing the potential impacts on air and water quality, biodiversity, and climate change.
The interpretation step, the results of the LCA are presented and discussed, and recommendations for improvements are made.
LCA analyses help decision makers to identify and quantify the environmental consequences facing decision gates, and it may provide a qualified approach to reduce the environmental footprint of products and services. The methods enable us to quantify the impacts of e.g., circularity in the material streams, if products can be re-used or re-purposed into second life usage, if a product can be repaired when broken, or dismantled so the raw material can be recycled into new products.
The world is a finite physical system and with a growing population, it is becoming increasingly important to consider ‘resource flow’ and ‘resource efficiency’ during planning. These concepts are used to determine how effective a physical input factor is being used to meet a desired outcome. In a world less plentiful these analyses are becoming increasingly important – see an example of how this is included in the policy developments at EU level, and how integrated product policies are developed in a common market (REF 1). In consequence, LCA-analyses are becoming increasingly useful in economic analyses, and further in financial climate risk assessments because the material input factors such as energy, material, emission costs are becoming more correctly priced. Mark however, the link between the physical quantities (energy, water, raw material, etc.) and the financial quantities (not conserved) is only valid if prices are adequate1.
When assessing the realism and usefulness of an LCA analysis framing needs special attention. What are input and outputs? How are these connected to the outside world, i.e., the elements not included in the analysis? Several authors claim that a full analysis encompasses the whole Earth system, while others claim it is more useful to narrow down the analysis to single industrial operations.
When comparing all physical factors (energy, material and water consumption, spillage, emissions, waste, and pollutants) in alternative industrial processes LCA can help identify the most sustainable way forward. Such analyses can be done in the design phase, and/or after an industrial application has been established while looking for incremental improvements. LCA provides a comprehensive view of the environmental impact of a product or service, rather than focusing on just one aspect.
Example of LCA-analyses
For example, a product may be made from recycled materials. This immediate advantage can be accompanied by additional water and energy need compared to product generation from juvenile materials extracted from nature. If so, this process may be reasonable if one in one region, with plentiful access to water and cheap renewable energy, while unreasonable in other regions without excess water and energy sources that harm climate and environment. LCA results are context dependent; the frame to the ‘outside’ world is essential. In a transition to a more sustainable future decision makers are aided to weigh these trade-offs to make informed choices.
Another relevant example is linked to the development of the Hydrogen Hub in the south of Norway REF 2. Here, Elkem Carbon, Everfuel and Greenstat (an offspring of Cristian Michelsen Research, now NORCE) develop and own green energy solutions for hydrogen, wind and solar. Their concept is to use green electric energy for hydrogen production using electrolyzers for maritime use around Kristiansand. As biproducts also oxygen and heat are produced. In their system offtake agreements for all three products are made, making the hydrogen production highly energy effective as more than 90% of the input energy will be utilized. Such systems provide large economic gains. (Oxygen is used for welding, and spill heat is used in the district heating system.)
LCA in NORCE
NORCE researchers have employed LCA analyses in a range of projects already. We will go through some examples of the work we have done.
In the H2020 ‘StrategyCCUS’ project for whole chain CCUS techno-economic analysis of eight industrial European regions, we developed a quantitative tool to assess energy use, material and steel consumption, areal use, overall costs, and actual avoided/abated/negative emission volumes (see REF 3). We found that significant cost reduction and material efficiency were gained when the industry actors had access to commonly owned transport and storage infrastructure. Having a back-bone Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) transport network and storage systems eases utilization of CO2 to other value creation, brings down cost per ton avoided emission and share operational and financial risks between the actors in the value chain. In addition, the analysis showed that when scaled up the material and energy use per ton CO2 stored was reduced if the infrastructure was made available in the region.
For ground source heat pumps (GSHP) for heating and cooling purposes systems LCA quantify the environmental impact and energy, material, and areal efficiency. Here, heat is extracted from the earth to be used either directly or via heat pumps. Such systems can also be used as a heat storages where warmth during the summer is stored between seasons. Integration with top-side energy demand analyses and underground knowledge is key to design ideal systems. Norway consumes approx. 50% of the electrical energy for heating and cooling of buildings (around 73-80 TWh/year) and with GSHP systems this number may be dramatically reduced. An effective electrical energy use frees electricity for other purposes during decarbonization, that also can be included in an extended LCA analysis. The socio-economic local gains from the conflict free source of energy, that the producer and consumer is located at the same place can be included. The direct and indirect economic consequences from nature encroachment, of other alternative solutions, need to supply the decision for which technologies to roll out this decade. Here, framing is key to make sure the adequate decision maker of such results can make the appropriate choice. As such, LCA analyses aid technological evaluations into a broader context, to avoid narrow thinking so when going forward we reduce the risks of harming other values dear to us.
In marine aquaculture, the use of microalgae to generate alternative sources to fishmeal and fish oil (REF 4). NORCE researchers published last year an article where significant cost reductions were displayed in a techno-economic analysis that combined process modelling, engineering design and economic evaluation.
Way forward in NORCE
The personnel in NORCE have a broad knowledge coming to integrated energy systems, energy technologies, the use of underground resources, marine systems, environmental footprint analyses, ecological consequence assessment, and social benefits and social acceptance, etc. This 360degree viewpoint makes us an ideal partner for LCA activity for industries and policy makers.
Our vision ‘Passion for knowledge – together for sustainability’ commits us to ‘through research and innovation help accelerate the green transition. Our research ensures social, economic, and environmental sustainability for society’.
If you want to use our competence to help you with your LCA challenges – let’s work together! Please contact: Ulrik Thisted and Anders Nermoen
Disclaimer: To initiate the writing process ChatGPT, a neural network computer that auto-generates text, was asked “What is LCA?” (15. December 2022).
Everfuel and Greenstat receive NOK 148 million in grant from Enova for Hydrogen Hub Agder
A Techno-Economic Analysis Tool for Regional CO2 Capture, Transport, Use and Storage Scenarios
Strategic Planning of Regions and Territories in Europe for Low Carbon Energy and Industry Through Ccus: The Strategy Ccus Project
Life Cycle Assessment of CCUS Scenarios in Three Promising European Region
Economic Evaluation of Eight Regional Scenarios for the Deployment of Carbon Capture, Use and Storage in Southern and Eastern Europe to 2050
Techno-economic analysis of microalgae production for aquafeed in Norway
+47 976 78 950