Highlights of developments in impact assessment in 2018

Developers of new impact assessment methodologies are constantly on a quest to improve the reliability of LCA results. As a busy LCA practitioner, you may not have the time to keep track of ongoing research. To make it easier for you to get a sense of what is happening in the field, PRé has decided to start doing a bi-annual overview of the most interesting developments. This article was written by Laura Golsteijn with contributions from Peter Fantke, Francesca Verones, Marisa Vieira, and Rosalie van Zelm.

PRé is strongly connected to academia and regularly involved with new research projects. It is our pleasure to follow the new developments and to highlight relevant publications for our SimaPro users.

Recent developments can roughly be divided into three categories:

  • Advances in spatial differentiation
  • Developments in impact pathways
  • Other progress


Global and spatially explicit impact assessment with LC-IMPACT

We get many questions about the availability of the LC-IMPACT method, which aims to provide a global life cycle impact assessment methodology for the three main areas of protection (human health, ecosystem quality, resources), including spatially differentiated information wherever necessary and feasible. By the end of this year, all impact categories will be compatible and the method will be ready. The researchers are working hard to publish their scientific paper in the Journal of Industrial Ecology. Once that is done, publication in SimaPro will follow swiftly.

Flexible fate and exposure assessment for chemicals

A team of researchers from the university of Michigan and DTU developed a flexible and matrix-based spatial modelling approach for estimating fate and exposure of chemicals. In this modelling approach, global spatial datasets have been used to characterise all relevant environmental conditions. A variable grid cell size can be defined flexibly based on any user-given region of interest or based on refinement parameters such as wind direction or population density. Combined with effect factors for human toxicity and ecotoxicity, this is a powerful framework to develop characterisation factors with various spatial resolutions for toxicity-related impact categories whenever spatial emission data are available. The first case studies characterise human exposure for several emission sources in Australia and freshwater ecosystem exposure in Asia – the latter with contribution from researchers at Unilever.

Spontaneous consensus attempt for regionalization

In September, PRé contributed to the 69th LCA Discussion Forum (DF) focused on Regionalisation in LCA. The conference report summarising the outcomes of the DF is published in the International Journal of LCA. The variety of approaches to regionalisation in LCA led to the spontaneous agreement to start a consensus finding process among LCA software suppliers. After all, they are the ones compiling LCI and LCIA data and process results for practitioners. The goal is to agree on how to implement spatially explicit LCI datasets and LCIA characterization factors. Together with the Life Cycle Initiative, PRé is now organizing this alignment. We look forward to the next steps and, most importantly, to the outcomes.


Detailed characterisation of wetland transformations and accompanying biodiversity

A group of researchers from several European institutes worked on wetland biodiversity and transformation that resulted from water consumption. They found that the factors that most influenced the recovery speed of the wetland were elevation, latitude, type of wetland, and restoration method. Their work also resulted in characterisation factors for wetland transformation. This work can help stakeholders make informed decisions on whether ‘biodiversity offsetting’ represents a legitimate policy option in a particular context.

Global impact assessment of seabed-damaging activities

Researchers from NTNU developed a method to assess the impact of seabed-damaging activities, both single and repetitive, on ecosystem quality. The method is globally applicable but – due to lack of data – currently only parameterised for 17 marine ecoregions in Europe. This work is now accepted for publication in Science of the Total Environment.

Assessment of marine ecotoxicity resulting from freshwater metal emissions

Researchers from DTU have developed characterisation factors for marine ecotoxicity related to freshwater metal emissions. They found that estuary removal of metals was particularly relevant for metals that have a strong tendency to bind to particles because that strongly influences marine ecotoxicity. In general, freshwater organisms seemed more sensitive to metal emissions than marine organisms, largely due to the higher species density in freshwater.

Development of fine dust exposure and effect estimates

Researchers at DTU further developed exposure estimates for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) for over 3500 cities worldwide with more than 100,000 inhabitants, as well as for continental and subcontinental regions that are compatible with regions defined in the USEtox scientific consensus model for human toxicity and ecotoxicity characterisation.

Accompanying effect factors for PM2.5 are currently being reviewed. Once these effect factors are available, they can be combined with city- or region-specific exposure estimates to provide a consistent set of characterisation factors for PM2.5. Those factors would be based on the latest Global Burden of Disease study results for health effects and severity factors as well as on city characteristics. Stay tuned for further updates!

Consideration of bystander exposure to agricultural pesticide emissions

Bystander exposure to agricultural pesticides can now be considered in LCA. The first characterisation model to consider this was developed and used in a case study on pesticides applied to potato fields. Back-calculated air concentrations were evaluated against measured data. This work results from a collaboration between DTU, Veolia, and IRSTEA.

Input-output modeling to quantify global eutrophication resulting from non-food commodities

A group of Norwegian, Danish and Dutch researchers combined efforts to address trade and the role of non-food commodities for global eutrophication. ReCiPe’s impact factors were linked to a multi-regional input-output model to characterise the importance of overall consumption for marine and freshwater eutrophication across 44 countries and 5 rest-of-world regions. Results show a.o. that clothing, goods for shelter, services and other manufactured products account for 35% of global marine eutrophication and 38% of the global freshwater eutrophication footprints in 2011. This work shows that relative to food consumption, non-food consumption is also significantly more income elastic and shaped by trade.

Improvements for modeling mineral and fossil resource scarcity

PRé and Radboud University have been working on improving the impact assessment modeling of mineral and fossil resource scarcity. Two impact indicators were developed. The first, surplus ore potential quantifies the extra amount of ore mined per additional amount of metal produced. This indicator is only applicable to mineral resources. The second, surplus cost potential, was developed for both fossil and mineral resources. It quantifies the average cost increase per unit of resource extracted. These developments will culminate in December this year in the PhD thesis defence of our colleague Marisa Vieira.


Normalisation factors for ReCiPe 2016

Normalisation factors for ReCiPe 2016 are currently being prepared for implementation. Once the last methodological issues are solved, they will be made available in the next SimaPro update.

Inclusion of parameter uncertainty in toxicity assessments

An international group of researchers has developed a Monte Carlo-based stochastic approach for incorporating chemical-specific parameter uncertainty estimates in toxicity characterisation. This helps practitioners prioritise data collection and refinement efforts in any LCA study. The approach has been tested for the vitamin B derivative niacinamide, which is an antioxidant used in personal care products.

If you are interested in reading more about any of these developments, follow the links or contact us. Are you a researcher working on something that might be relevant to share? We are always happy to hear about new developments, so do not hesitate to reach out

Laura Golsteijn

Senior Consultant

I am eager to increase the environmental awareness of our society, and I believe that everyone can contribute to a more sustainable world, every day. At PRé we provide companies with both the knowledge and the tools to improve their products and services. I am excited to work for an organisation that is involved in developing sustainable initiatives.

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