Life Cycle Inventory Data: Ready-Made or Home-Cooked?
Monday, March 25, 2013
When it comes to data for life cycle assessments, there are two extreme approaches: 1.) collecting all data “in the field” and 2.) using data exclusively from databases available through open access (such as European reference Life Cycle Database and Australian Life Cycle Inventory) or for purchase from specialised data providers (the most widely used Ecoinvent, currently v.2.2).
Using a combination of the two makes efficient use of the financial and human resources allocated for the LCA project. Data for company and product-specific processes, materials etc. should be the basis of any LCA study, but for standard background processes like energy generation, readily available data from databases is often sufficient and does not compromise the quality of results, as long as its representativeness is assured and possible differences in technologies are accounted for (for example, you shouldn’t use a European process if a substantial proportion of its impacts are associated with energy consumption in an Australian study without amending the process accordingly).
LCA practitioners should always check for contribution of product-specific and generic / tailored energy and material flows towards the impact areas of interest to ensure that error margins are within acceptable limits for the purposes of the study – larger errors are allowed for preliminary scoping LCAs but unacceptable for studies that are intended to be disclosed to the public.
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