LCA Database ecoinvent v3 is here | More models, more datasets, more consistency

Gregor Wernet, ecoinvent's Executive Manager, about the release of the new version of world's most used LCA database, ecoinvent v3.

ecoinvent, LCA database, included in SimaPro 8


More models, more datasets, more consistency

It’s the world’s most used LCA database. ecoinvent began as an internal project to collect data amongst a collaboration of Swiss research institutes. And now, twenty years later, ecoinvent offers science-based, industrial, international LCA data to users around the world. And last May, after years of hard work, a new version hit the web, ecoinvent v3. Designed with more system models, more datasets, and more consistency throughout, ecoinvent v3 is ready to grow along with the LCA field.


Leading the consensus

“I took over as executive manager of the project last year,” said Gregor Wernet, who has been involved with the database since 2005. “ecoinvent v3 is the brainchild of Bo Weidema, the previous executive manager and now chief scientist of the ecoinvent Centre. It is his achievement,” Wernet said. But overall, ecoinvent encourages a very collaborative atmosphere. Wernet explained, “In general ecoinvent is very consensus-based and not hierarchical. Whenever possible, we work to achieve a consensual agreement.”


Lessons learned, difficulties faced

Updating a database of ecoinvent’s size is no small feat. “I’ve heard the statistic that half of all major software projects just completely fail. At the start I would have said, ‘that’s way too high,’ ” Wernet told us from his office in Switzerland. But after facing a series of delays, Wernet realized the truth. “Based on what I’ve heard from others commiserating with us, I now consider a 50-percent failure rate to be a realistic estimate.”


“On a very simple level, the lesson we learned is that we began with too much optimism,” Wernet said, adding that detailed estimates are often difficult, “when  you’re dealing with a powerful system like ecoinvent v3.”


But the ecoinvent team persevered, and ecoinvent v3 incorporates a number of exciting changes that will increase ease of use for users for years to come.


User-Friendly and adaptable

There’s a completely new system, upgraded from the underlying software which had been in use since the early 2000s. It was a difficult but necessary task to allow for new properties and calculations. “One of the main goals of ecoinvent v3 was to develop a system that is adapted to growth,” Wernet said. “ecoinvent v3 is adaptable, both in terms of increasing numbers of datasets as well as user requirements.” 


Ease of use was a primary consideration when creating ecoinvent v3, and the ecoinvent team, comprised of experts and scientists, instituted several changes to assist with user experience. For example, ecoinvent v3 can now store mathematical relations inside datasets. “Users can understand where the values come from, and they don’t need to recalculate them manually,” Wernet said.  


Users can now also distinguish between “products” and “activities” within the database, something versions 1 and 2 could not do. “In the old database, you could not separate a product name from the process name, so it was more difficult to find processes with the same product,” Wernet explained.


Consistent inclusion of market datasets are another exciting innovation included in the new version. “They’re datasets that give you a consumption mix for a product, the average way it’s available to consumers,” Wernet said. For example, he said, consider electricity. “If you think of electricity as an input, the average user generally just thinks, ‘I get it from my plug.’ Users can now always just select the consumption mix, a market index that gives you the average, plus any impacts of transportation of getting the product to the consumer.” Wernet explained, “It simplifies it a little bit, making it easier for users to select inputs if they’re not exactly sure of its origin. In the old version, you had to include everything separately.”


Thinking globally with ecoinvent v3

Another notable aspect of ecoinvent v3 is the implementation of a global supply chain system. It’s part of an effort to win more international data providers. “Version 2 was very European-based. When you looked at products you often saw exclusively European supply chains, and that didn’t accurately reflect was what really happening,” said Wernet. “In ecoinvent v3 we have a global dataset for every activity.” For now datasets are often approximated, but the system is designed to incorporate better global datasets once they are uploaded. “From a data management and collection perspective, the combination of systems is elegant,” Wernet said.


Consistency and new data

Of course, those looking for the same, reliable ecoinvent database need not worry. “For users who are not so interested in the new features, the key message is that there’s a system model that can be used in very much the same way as before,” Wernet explained.


Users can also look forward to, “a lot of new data in the new version,” Wernet said. New datasets include electricity, water, biofuels, chemicals, fruit and vegetables, and cement, among others.


Looking forward: Staying relevant and focused

“Our vision is to stay what we are, a very useful and relevant LCA inventory database,” said Wernet. Of course, the ecoinvent team already has some plans for additional improvements. “We want to further to expand the database with even more coverage of water flows for water footprinting, one of the very exciting new sets of data.”


The ecoinvent Centre, a not-for-profit organization, would also like to use the newly established, flexible structure of ecoinvent v3 “to work more with international partners, to really build a global network of interested parties to support the database.” Wernet adds, “It makes no sense for five Swiss institutes to provide data to the whole world, we want an international group who can provide data for their regions.”


Overall, he says, “Of course we want to follow new developments, standards, and initiatives in the LCA community. We want to stay relevant. But in the end, we want to keep doing what we’re doing, which is to provide high quality and consistent data at as cheap a price as possible.”


Get off to a flying start with ecoinvent v3

Learn more about the new features, such as the global supply chains and new system models, that ecoinvent v3 has to offer!

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