Five Crucial LCA Features in SimaPro
Our technical consultant and SimaPro teacher, Ellen Brilhuis-Meijer, will show you five features in SimaPro which, in her opinion, are crucial for calculating high-quality LCAs.
Anyone familiar with SimaPro knows that it is a powerful software tool that allows you to calculate Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) quite easily. Especially those who learned to calculate LCA the old-fashioned way, i.e. by hand, will appreciate the many features that are available to assist LCA practitioners. A few handy features, however, are relatively unknown, though they can make the life of even the most experienced LCA practitioner much easier. In addition, some features are unique to SimaPro and may not be familiar to people who normally use other LCA software.
I’d like to show you five features in SimaPro that I find crucial for calculating high-quality LCAs. Please note that some of these features are only available in SimaPro Analyst, Developer and PhD.
The Network is a graphical representation of your model and is unique to SimaPro. It is great to get a quick overview of what you’ve modelled and to check for anomalies. You can, for example, see the amounts that are used of each process, which makes it easy to spot mistakes in units. The flow of the materials can also be seen, so you can make sure each material ends up in the correct end-of-life treatment.
Various options are available to adjust the view: for example, the impact can be shown as a single score, but also for one impact category, you can choose to see cumulative impact, percentages, or both, and, my personal favourite, you can see the environmental impact represented in the thickness of the lines. These features make the Network the perfect place to check your model and start your interpretation.
The Checks tab can be found after you calculate the results. It allows you to see which substances in your model are not defined in the impact assessment method you used. In other words: which substances in your model do not have a matching characterisation factor and are thus ignored when calculating the environmental impact.
It is likely that this list of substances will be quite long, due to the high number of substances in existence. So, the main thing is to check if anything highly relevant or specific to your life cycle is missing. If so, you might want to use another method that covers these relevant issues to increase the reliability of your results.
Show Data of All Projects
It may be that you have modelled different life cycles in different SimaPro projects, and you want to combine or compare them. As you may know, projects in SimaPro cannot link to other projects, so you need another solution.
The ‘Show data of all projects’ button is hidden in plain sight and will show you all processes and product stages from the projects you have access to in your database. If you want, you can copy items to your current project using the Edit/Copy Tree function. But it is also possible to simply run a calculation with items from different projects. This has the advantage that the original links remain intact and you don’t have two copies of the same model floating around, risking discrepancies between the two versions.
The calculation setup has many different tabs with features, but my personal favourite is the Parameter Sets tab. Here, you can vary the values of different parameters, independent of whether they are process or project parameters. This is very useful if you want to do a sensitivity analysis on your assumptions and choices, since you can calculate the results using as many different values for a parameter as you like. Another great use of this functionality is for eco-design purposes, since you can easily create different scenarios by varying multiple parameters at once. For example, you can calculate the results for various combinations of transport distances, materials and production processes. The only limit is your creativity in setting up your parameters.
The ecoinvent database provides detailed waste treatments for many different materials. Especially for consumer products, however, your end-of-life scenario will in many cases consist of an average waste scenario for a certain country. To make the lives of LCA practitioners easier, we have created a number of average waste scenarios. For example, the waste scenario for the Netherlands is based on Dutch waste statistics and specifies that, for example, 72% of paper and 68% of glass is collected and recycled separately. The remaining waste ends up in trash bags that are picked up by municipalities, which is captured in the Dutch curb-side collection waste scenario. This specifies, again based on statistics, that waste processors filter out 78% of steel and various amounts of other materials. The remainder is sent to incineration (92.1%) or landfill (7.9%).
Similar waste scenarios are available for a number of countries, saving you the trouble of collecting this data yourself. As long as the waste types of your model are set correctly, you can simply use one of these average waste scenarios and everything will take care of itself.
You can find the waste scenarios in the Processes tree, in the Waste scenario category. Of course these waste scenarios are transparent, allowing you to copy them, adapt the fractions of waste streams that are separated, and make them more specific to your situation.
My background in industrial design made it clear to me that the current system of consumption and disposal cannot be maintained in the long run. I quickly became interested in quantifying sustainability, so that well-supported decisions can be made in our move towards a more sustainable world. LCA provides the ability to focus on the facts.