275495 Evaluating the Sustainability and Resource Consumption of Biomaterials Using Eco-LCA and Spatial Analysis
Ecosystem goods and services are essential to all human activity. In spite of this importance, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment has found that many ecosystem services are highly degraded. In many engineering analyses, these necessary goods and services are undervalued, or even ignored completely. It is therefore crucial to develop and modify existing methods to allow these services to be valued and accounted for in decision making. Often, conventional life cycle assessment (LCA) tends to only look at energy consumption and emissions. However, Ecologically Based LCA (Eco-LCA) is a thermodynamically based LCA that allows for many ecosystem goods and services used throughout our economy to be quantified, in addition to the traditional LCA results of energy consumption and emissions. Eco-LCA looks at resource use throughout the entire economy to determine how much various industries and commodities consume. The commodities that we directly get from ecosystems are called provisioning services and include valuables such as food, water, energy, and other materials. There have been recent additions to the Eco-LCA model and it now accounts for even more ecosystem services (particularly provisioning services) than it used to, including many valuable intermediate flows throughout the economy, such as grains, livestock, and other food sources. This enables us to present our results on sustainability from an engineering perspective to others in the sustainability field with different backgrounds, such as ecology, business, or public policy.
In addition to the insight we can get from the economy-scale Eco-LCA, we have also begun incorporating spatial analysis into LCA. By using specific, spatial data, we can achieve levels of precision that would otherwise be difficult to realize. We do not need to make assumptions about the general conditions of different land uses, we can choose a specific plot of land and know the exact conditions on the piece of land and how that affects the sustainability of the resources coming from that land. We can also introduce time through multiple sets of spatial data, allowing us to see the effects of our decisions on ecosystems. The ecological models that we are using come from the InVEST (Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs) software from the Natural Capital group. InVEST uses spatial data such as Digital Elevation Models (DEM) and Land Use/Land Change (LULC) maps to feed into the ecological models, which include marine, freshwater, and terrestrial models. From InVEST, we can get new maps of different possible future scenarios as well as aggregated data on total ecosystem service use for the parcel of land.
A case study will be presented using both of these techniques to achieve a very comprehensive LCA. First, we will use spatial analysis to look at the farmland that will be growing our feedstock. It will allow us to better quantify the ecosystem services required for our product, such as pollination, water use, carbon sequestration, and sediment runoff. We will then use the results from that to feed into Eco-LCA, which will allow us to see what resources and valuable intermediates will be necessary for both the inputs to the farming as well as the industrial processing of our feedstock to various biomaterials. From these two methods, we can get information to calculate metrics such as Carbon, Nitrogen, and Water Footprints; Return on Investment; and Renewability. In using both of these methods, we will get a more complete picture of ecosystem service requirements for biomaterials and their relative sustainability.
See more of this Group/Topical: Sustainable Engineering Forum