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Development and application of environmental Life Cycle Impact assessment Methods for imProved sustAinability Characterisation of Technologies

Periodic Report Summary 2 - LC-IMPACT (Development and application of environmental Life Cycle Impact assessment Methods for imProved sustAinability Characterisation of Technologies)

Project Context and Objectives:
The life cycle perspective helps decision makers in business and government to take into account all the resources consumed and environmental impacts associated with the global supply, use, and end-of-life of goods and services. The environmental pillar of life cycle thinking is supported by Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). In our globalised economy we need life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) methods that are valid on a global level, while still maintaining sufficient spatial detail. For most of the environmental impacts that are to be considered in life cycle assessment (LCA), including toxicity, acidification, eutrophication and land use, there are currently no methods available that are equipped to deal with spatial differentiation on a global scale. Apart from expanding current practice to the global scale in LC-IMPACT (the development and application of environmental Life Cycle Impact assessment Methods for imProved sustAinability Characterisation of Technologies), we work on developing novel LCIA methods (Figure 1). Until recently, the research community mainly focused on method development for emission-related impact categories, largely neglecting the necessity to improve methods that address resource-related impacts. Moreover, impacts on marine resource use and noise have not been included in LCA up to now. LC-IMPACT develops methods that properly deal with impacts related to the use of a wide variety of resources, including land, water, fish and minerals, higher predator toxicity and noise. A key challenge in LC-IMPACT is the testing of methods in the daily practice of life cycle assessment studies. Our industrial partners have an important position in demonstrating the improved decision support of the new characterisation and normalisation factors in the context of the following three case studies: i) food production (fish, tomatoes, margarine), ii) paper production and printing, and iii) automobile manufacturing and operation.

Project Results:
1. Spatial differentiation in LCIA methods at the global scale was established for:
* inventory of land use classification
* erosion loss, carbon loss and biomass production for land occupation by corn production;
* water consumption towards aquatic biodiversity;
* terrestrial ecotoxicity by metals;
* freshwater ecotoxicity by organic pollutants;
* freshwater eutrophication by phosphorus;
* acidification by priority air pollutants (NOx, SO2, NH3);
* respiratory effects by primary and secondary aerosols.
Spatial differences in the characterisation factors can be 2-4 orders of magnitude, depending on the impact category and level of spatial detail considered.

2. Novel LCIA methods were developed to address the impact of:
* groundwater extraction on terrestrial plant species;
* target catch and by catch on marine resources;
* fossil and mineral scarcity, including an example of copper use;
* toxic chemicals on the health of warm-blooded predators (mammals and birds);
* pesticides on human health applied to specific crop types;
* noise on human health.
The novel methods all follow the same concept of fate, exposure and effects in LCIA.

3. Guidelines were set-up within the project to further align between impact categories:
* spatial specification;
* selection of the reference state;
* specification of uncertainties;
* selection of normalization year and region.

Potential Impact:
Our results will be used by the European Platform on LCA, which was established by the European Commission to increase the use of LCA in business and public authorities, LC-IMPACT directly supports the EU policy making in a range of areas, such as the Sustainable and Consumption Action Plan, Bio-waste Green Paper, the Waste Framework Directive, and the Climate and Energy package. LC-IMPACT particularly leads to a greater coherence and quality assurance across LCA instruments. It also contributes to life cycle related policies in developing economies. By taking into account issues around land use, biodiversity and water availability this proposal specifically addresses areas relevant in many non-OECD countries which are currently not well addressed in life cycle approaches up to now. Furthermore, the developed methods and factors will be publicly available on the website of LC-IMPACT. These models can be freely accessed by everyone to perform life cycle impact assessments.

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