LCA Appropriate Tool for Assessing Environmental Impact of Forest Products, But Beware of Uncertainties
- Written by Anna Strom
LCA is one of the most commonly used methods for environmental life-cycle assessments, but the correctness of an assessment's outcome relies heavily on the researcher's choice of method in designing his or her study, as well as the availability of relevant input data.
Tomorrow, a Bio4Energy student who has dwelled into both these issues will be defending her thesis on Exploring the Relevance of Uncertainty in the Life Cycle Assessment of Forest Products.
Her chief conclusion is that LCA is indeed an appropriate method for assessing the environmental and climate change impact of forest product systems, but that the use of additional methods—such as life-cycle management or scenario analysis—may be warranted and that, in each individual case, researchers have to ask themselves whether there are uncertainties and discuss these in their studies.
"LCA is the very best method we have for assessing impacts throughout a [product's] life cycle", Røyne said.
Then this includes the assessment of greenhouse gas emissions across a product system?
"Yes we are looking at [emissions of] all the greenhouse gases… but we have to be aware of the uncertainties and discuss these so that the LCA is put to use in appropriate ways as a basis for decision-making", according to Røyne.
When designing their studies, should LCA researchers assume that biomass is carbon neutral per se?
"There are standards that researchers can follow that encompass certain more complex climate aspects, such as the effect of land use [change] and shifts in soil carbon balances", Røyne said. However, her thesis reveals that other aspects that forest biomass outtake could impact on, such as timing and the effect of albedo, often are not accounted for. The albedo effect is the capacity of the Earth's surface to reflect sunlight back to space.
"When one is about to perform a study one should follow the standards (or rules for designing LCA studies, spelled out in ISO1440-44, Ed's note), but one should also reflect on what other aspects may play in that specific case, using this or that specific type of biomass. If there are uncertainties these should be discussed in the study", Røyne said.
Umeå University published a press release in Swedish to announce the results of Røyne's thesis and the date for her defending it.