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Improving Life Cycle analysis tools for sustainability assessment in forestry, agriculture and environment technologies

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Life cycle thinking for bioprocesses

Researchers have investigated how to measure the environmental and social impacts of agro-bioprocesses. This will enable compliance with EU Integrated Product Policy regulations.

Climate Change and Environment icon Climate Change and Environment

Life-cycle assessment (LCA) tools are used to assess social and environmental impacts associated with the stages of a product's life from cradle-to-grave. The cycle begins with the extraction of raw materials, moving through processing and distribution to disposal or recycling. The ECOTOOL project aimed to develop LCA tools for assessing environmental and social impacts of forestry, agriculture and environmental technology processes. The work included developing methods for more user-friendly LCA assessment processes, and tools for improving LCA impact indicators, such as for soil quality. A new approach was taken to streamline LCA applied to agriculture, involving the use of traceability data collected in compliance with EU regulations or other requirements. The development of information and communication technologies and the use of smart phones have helped to facilitate data acquisition in agriculture. Project partners also identified bottlenecks in LCAs for agro-bioprocesses. These included the lack of relevant indicators in agriculture, such as water and land use, which have been taken into account only recently. For land use, it is necessary to know precisely the carbon content of the soil, which is related to fertility and carbon sequestration ability. Therefore, ECOTOOL explored the strengths and weaknesses of near-infrared spectroscopy for measuring carbon in soil, and proposed improvements. Researchers also developed a method for removing the effect of soil moisture on carbon estimation from spectra. This will help in designing portable sensors for measuring carbon content, enabling the amount of sequestered carbon to be determined and refinement of land use impact. The result will be more precise LCA outputs. ECOTOOL also focused on assessing the environmental impacts of forest and algal-based biofuels. A general framework for assessing the social impacts of bioenergy production at different levels of concern (i.e. company, municipality, state) was set up. The framework was applied to chains of biofuel production from forests or algae. The project transferred knowledge of bio-based products and services from partners in Australia and Finland to partners in France. This included reciprocal exchanges of scientists, and the organisation of seminars and an international conference. The work will help France to develop a large-scale research and higher education structure dedicated to LCA for bio-based products and services.

Keywords

Bioprocesses, social impacts, Integrated Product Policy, life-cycle assessment, environmental impacts, forestry, agriculture, environmental technology, soil quality, traceability data, land use, carbon content, carbon sequestration, biofuels

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