Project leader LC-IMPACT about the outcomes of a 3.5 year project
LC-IMPACT is a three and a half year EU project. It complements and builds upon the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) work done in the context of the European platform for LCA and the UNEPSETAC Life Cycle Initiative.
By Prof. Dr. Mark Huijbregts
In a globalised economy, we need life cycle impact assessment methods that are valid on a global level, while still maintaining sufficient spatial detail. For most environmental impacts considered in life cycle assessment (LCA), including toxicity, acidification, eutrophication and land use, there are, however, hardly available methods equipped to deal with spatial differentiation on a global scale.
LC-IMPACT demonstrates methodological improvements within the context of three case areas, namely food production (margarine, fish and fresh tomatoes), paper production and printing, and car production and operation. LC-IMPACT researchers are working on expanding current practices on the global scale, while also developing novel LCIA methods. Existing methods are limited in terms of scale, species that are included, and stressors. For example, current LCIA includes, to a limited extent, a consistent method of evaluating environmental impacts on a global scale. More specifically, the project has three main objectives: firstly, it develops new impact assessment methods for categories not commonly included in LCIA, and for which model uncertainties are very high, such as land use, water exploitation and resource use. Until recently, the research community has focused mainly on method development for emission-related impact categories, largely neglecting the necessity of improving methods which address resource-related impacts. Secondly, it provides spatially-explicit characterisation factors on a global scale for land use, water. exploitation, toxicants, priority air pollutants and nutrients. Thirdly, it provides quantitative information on various sources of uncertainty in LCIA methods and corresponding factors.
The level of spatial detail required in the life cycle impact assessment is a cross-cutting, key issue. Global scale models are used to derive generic characterisation factors for life cycle studies where the exact location of the activities is unknown. When that is not possible, characterisation factors at the European scale are developed, and for all impact categories, we analyse the extent to which geographical specifi cation can influence characterisation factors.
LC-IMPACT is comprised of five work packages. The first of these focuses on developing globally applicable, spatially-explicit, characterisation and normalisation factors around agricultural and forestry land use on ecosystem services and species richness; groundwater and surface water exploitation on human health; the use of mineral and fossil resource commodities on resource availability; and the catch of target species and non-target fish species stocks.
By contrast, the second work package improves the characterisation factors of terrestrial ecotoxicity, with a specific focus on metals, whole effluent emissions causing aquatic ecotoxicity, and the impact of toxic chemicals on higher predators. It is also studying direct pesticide exposure via food, leading to human toxicity.
Work package three concentrates on the effects of nutrient emissions on species richness in the aquatic environment, acidifying emissions on species richness in terrestrial ecosystems, precursor emissions, such as NOx and NMVOC, on human health, and species richness in terrestrial ecosystems. It is also tasked with investigating the impacts on human health of primary particulate matter emission, secondary particulate matter formation, and noise.
The fourth package collects environmental data for food production – specifi cally fi sh, fresh tomatoes, and margarine production – paper production and printing, and automobile production and operation, including biodiesel. It then applies the newly-developed LCIA methodology, evaluating it with characterisation and normalisation factors from the case studies, and compares the results with old and newlydeveloped methods.
Work package five is concerned with designing, implementing and maintaining a project website for documenting methods, characterisation and normalisation factors, and case study results, obtaining input from stakeholders on requirements for the methodology applications and seeking their comments on the outcomes. It is also responsible for disseminating project results through a portfolio of actions, including the development of educational material for industry and academia, providing training, and publicising workshops and publications.
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Sixteen partners, including universities, research institutes, consultancies and industry, are involved in LC-IMPACT. For a full list of LC-IMPACT partners, please visit our project website.
About the author
Mark Huijbregts is a professor in the area of Integrated Environmental Assessment at the Department of Environmental Science at the Radboud University, the Netherlands. He is an expert in the modeling of the fate and effects of multiple environmental stressors and authored over 130 peer-reviewed scientific publications in this area.