Frida Royne Photo by FRSystem analysis student in Bio4Energy Frida Røyne will be defending her PhD thesis on LCA and forest products 22 April at Umeå, Sweden. Photo by courtesy of Frida Røyne.A well-known method for assessing the environmental and climate change impacts of products over their life-cycle is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Forest products are no exception in this respect. However, while there has been rising interest in applying LCA to check the impact of forest products designed to replace similar ones refined from fossil oil, in the last decade a discussion has been ongoing about how to account for greenhouse gas emissions and from which sources.

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.

Part of the new research and development platform Bio4Energy System Analysis and Bioeconomy, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. of Umeå University used recent cases studies—such as a "Forest Chemistry" project in which chemical and forestry industry in Sweden joined forces to try to assess whether a chemical industry cluster at Stenungsund could feasibly replace part of its fossil raw material base with forest-sourced feedstock—to draw conclusions as to whether LCA is a suitable method by which to assess forest products. However, being a generalist and employed by the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden, Røyne also was interested in looking at the development of LCA as a method of systems analysis, its potential flaws and the way in which these were being communicated.

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.


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