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EVSP312 Introduction to Sustainability Laboratory 2 – Life Cycle Analysis and Biofuels

 

EVSP312 Introduction to Sustainability

Laboratory 2 – Life Cycle Analysis and Biofuels

 

“We cannot solve our problems with the same kind of thinking we used when creating them.” – Albert Einstein

  1. Activity Goals
  • To understand the process of life cycle analysis
  • To examine data and predict the desirability of biofuels
  • Reflect on the values and criteria we use to define trade-offs 
  1. Background. As with Lab 1, be sure to save the document, as this will be uploaded to the Assignments Tab to be graded.Only spend a half an hour or so on this assignment as I am not looking for you to solve a specific world problem that renowned scientists haven’t resolved to date :^). Rather I want you to become aware of a mechanism in place that you can apply which may benefit you one day.The EPA (http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/lcaccess/) identifies LCA as a technique to assess the environmental aspects and potential impacts associated with a product, process, or service, by:
  • compiling an inventory of relevant energy and material inputs and environmental releases;
  • evaluating the potential environmental impacts associated with identified inputs and releases;
  • interpreting the results to help you make a more informed decision.

The goal is for individuals “to make more informed decisions through a better understanding of the human health and environmental impacts of products, processes, and activities as an LCA can help decision-makers select the product or process that results in the least impact to the environment. The site further identifies the four primary areas of 1) why one would want to perform an LCA, 2) an overview of LCA, 3) how to find LCI data sources, and 4) available LCA resources.”.

 

Within the technique, the LCA process is a systematic, phased approach and consists of four components: goal definition and scoping, inventory analysis, impact assessment, and interpretation.

1. Goal Definition and Scoping – Define and describe the product, process or activity. Establish the context in which the assessment is to be made and identify the boundaries and environmental effects to be reviewed for the assessment.

2. Inventory Analysis – Identify and quantify energy, water and materials usage and environmental releases (e.g., air emissions, solid waste disposal, waste water discharges).

3. Impact Assessment – Assess the potential human and ecological effects of energy, water, and material usage and the environmental releases identified in the inventory analysis.

4. Interpretation – Evaluate the results of the inventory analysis and impact assessment to select the preferred product, process or service with a clear understanding of the uncertainty and the assumptions used to generate the results.

 

  1. Activity Instructions

In this lab, you will ‘walk’ through the LCA process by selecting a specific biofuel and provide your analysis in an essay at the end of this worksheet. To assist you, the ‘source document’ is located in the week 4 lecture notes of the Resources folder, as well as provided in a template below. Ensure you provide substantive notes to help justify your final submission.

Item

Starts on Page

Your Submission

Specific BioFuel you have Selected

N/A

 
Goal Definition and Scoping Define and describe the product, process or activity to make effective use of time and resources.

 

Define the Goal(s) of the Project

7

 

Determine What Type of Information Is Needed to Inform the Decision-Makers

8

 

Determine the Required Specificity

9

 

Determine How the Data Should Be Organized and the Results Displayed

11

 

Define the Scope of the Study

11

 

Determine the Ground Rules for Performing the Work

18

 
Inventory Analysis – Identify and quantify energy, water and materials usage and environmental releases

 

Develop a flow diagram of the processes being evaluated.

19

The flow diagram portion is not required to be submitted.

Develop a data collection plan.

19

 

Collect data.

28

 

Evaluate and report results

44

 
Impact Assessment – Assess the potential human and ecological effects of energy, water, and material usage and the environmental releases identified in the inventory analysis.

46

 

Selection and Definition of Impact Categories – identifying relevant environmental impact categories (e.g., global warming, acidification, terrestrial toxicity).

48

 

Classification – assigning LCI results to the impact categories (e.g., classifying carbon dioxide emissions to global warming).

48

 

Characterization – modeling LCI impacts within impact categories using science-based conversion factors (e.g., modeling the potential impact of carbon dioxide and methane on global warming).

50

 

Normalization – expressing potential impacts in ways that can be compared (e.g. comparing the global warming impact of carbon dioxide and methane for the two options).

51

 

Grouping – sorting or ranking the indicators (e.g. sorting the indicators by location: local, regional, and global).

52

 

Weighting – emphasizing the most important potential impacts.

52

 

Evaluating and Reporting LCIA Results – gaining a better understanding of the reliability of the LCIA results.

53

 
Interpretation – Evaluate the results of the inventory analysis and impact assessment to select the preferred product, process or service

54

 

Identification of the Significant Issues Based on the LCI and LCIA.

55

 

Evaluation which Considers Completeness, Sensitivity, and Consistency Checks.

56

 

Conclusions, Recommendations, and reporting.

58

 

 

Your analysis. Some additional ‘items’ (http://ee80s2010.pbworks.com/w//29260250/Lab-3:-Life-Cycle-Analysis-of-Biofuels) to consider in your analysis wrap-up are bulletized below, but be sure to identify the following 1) What key environmental issues can you identify for your assigned biofuel that extend beyond concerns about carbon and energy use, 2) What social issues can you identify that may impact the desirability of your assigned biofuel, and 3) What policy issues can you identify surrounding your assigned biofuel (i.e. is it mandated for use or banned from certain countries? Does it receive government subsidies? For those that are particularly socially or environmentally egregious, can you determine why they are produced at all).

  • “Biofuels” can include a diverse amount of fuels that are derived from organic material. Biofuels come with a ‘cost’ and this leads into debates at all levels about clean renewable energy and energy policy. In some cases biofuels require fossil fuel inputs to produce, have a very large carbon footprint, or compete with food production (which drives up food prices). This is important because if it takes a gallon of petroleum to produce a gallon of biofuel, it is unlikely that we are seeing the touted benefits of producing this supposedly renewable fuel. This is also a question of energy payback – how long does it take for the energy (or carbon) invested in the production of a biofuel to be paid off? This is critical to knowing how to grow biofuels sustainably. Life cycle analysis is the perfect tool for exploring these questions.
  • Many biofuel LCAs, on the other hand, don’t expand analytical boundaries very far. Authors of biofuel LCAs justify these narrow analytical boundaries because they see the biofuels life cycle as a “closed loop:” that is, there are no carbon or other effects outside of the cycle itself. Biofuel proponents argue that biofuels are a “closed loop” system because the carbon released during fuel use is taken back up during the next season of photosynthesis. They contrast this with fossil fuels that draw on stocks of carbon stored in the form of oil, coal, etc. and add this carbon to the carbon pool in the atmosphere. 
  • Recently scientists looking at the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels have expanded the boundaries of the LCA to include land use change. The idea here is that the land dedicated to biofuel production will either bring new land into production (often involving deforestation, draining peat bogs, or plowing under new crop land) or displace the crops previously on that land into new land. Land use change can lead to increased carbon emissions that would be associated with carbon leaving the soil and vegetation. They call this biofuels’ carbon debt. The argument suggests that the benefits of using this “renewable” fuel are not realized until the carbon debt from land clearing is paid off. In some cases this takes hundreds of years.
  • For the ‘out-of box’ thinkers,
    • The tools you use to measure and gather information (“the metric”) can change how the problem is defined.
    • The LCA boundaries around biofuels might be expanded.
    • The LCA might be broadened to consider more kinds of materials and energy flows
    • The LCA might be contextualized with information that is difficult to quantify.
    • The manner that LCAs are structured affects how we conceive of different tradeoffs.
    • How you might expand a biofuels life cycle by suggesting where in the ‘loop’ additional raw materials are being consumed (electricity, heat, fertilizer, pesticides, transportation, etc.) and where carbon would leave the system.

 

 

Once completed, upload this to the Assignments section, under the Laboratory 2Assignment.

Student Name: _____________________

 

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