Knowledge exchange: DEMEAU & other FP7 projects on LCA in Loeben

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DEMEAU partners attended a workshop on methods of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for all EU-FP7 projects in Leoben (AT). LCA experts of 12 research projects exchanged ideas on LCA related topics and defined a common framework for environmental indicators to facilitate the comparability and reliability of outcomes of the environmental assessment.

Within many EU funded research projects, LCA is commonly used for analysing the environmental impacts of processes or systems. To enable exchange of experiences between different EU projects using the LCA methodology, DEMEAU partners attended a workshop organized by the Montanuniversitaet in Leoben, Austria, on February 6, 2014. This workshop featured a presentation of 12 EU-FP7 research projects from different sectors such as mining, water and waste management, agriculture, and manufacturing. All these projects apply LCA for assessing the environmental footprint of innovative technologies and illustrating the beneficial effect of innovations for the environment.

In the workshop, the participants discussed about methodological aspects of LCA, such as the selection of appropriate environmental indicators or the definition of reasonable system boundaries. This exchange will promote a common approach of applying the LCA framework within EU funded projects to facilitate the interpretation of LCA outcomes. Eventually, this will support the application of LCA in future research.

A main focus of the workshop related to the appropriate choice of environmental indicators for the assessment. To increase comparability of environmental assessments, the workshop participants decided upon a set of core indicators that should be reported in all LCA studies:

  • primary energy demand
  • global warming potential
  • acidification of terrestrial ecosystems
  • eutrophication of rivers, lakes and oceans
  • depletion of ozone in the stratosphere

All these indicators are scientifically well described and represent areas of major environmental concern. Depending on the specific context of each project, additional indicators can be applied to illustrate important aspects of the respective process or system. For the difficult evaluation of toxicity effects of emissions on humans or the environment, all projects are advised to follow the international consensus model USEtox®, which is already applied by the DEMEAU partner Quantis (CH).

Furthermore, discussion dealt with the handling and interpretation of indicator results. The project experts agreed that a separate reporting of individual indicators for different areas of environmental concern should be used within LCA. Different impacts such as global warming or eutrophication should not be compared or aggregated into a single environmental score by summarizing or weighting them in between each other, as weighting depends on the values of the individual perspective. This approach towards reporting multiple individual indicators will increase transparency of LCA results for all stakeholders. More transparency will eventually support the public to trust in the outcomes of the environmental assessment.

Feedback from other projects on the DEMEAU approach mainly related to the appropriate and precise description of the functions (i.e. micropollutant removal) for the different processes. In many countries, definitive legislative regulations are still lacking for concentration limits of micropollutants in drinking water or wastewater. Therefore, it may prove difficult to define a reasonable target level of micropollutant removal in some cases. Certainly, the choice of the regulative bodies on both relevant substances and respective limit values will influence the effectiveness of a specific technology in reaching these targets. In the end, this choice for regulated compounds and on target values could have a decisive impact on the comparison of innovative technologies tested within DEMEAU and reference technologies.

The presentations of the other workshop participants will be soon available on the website of the Montanuniversitaet.

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