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Dealing with Emergy Algebra in the Life Cycle Assessment Framework
Rugani, B., E. Benetto, L. Tiruta-Barna, D. Arbault, W. INGWERSEN, AND A. Marvuglia. Dealing with Emergy Algebra in the Life Cycle Assessment Framework. Presented at the Seventh Biennial Emergy Research Conference, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, January 12, 2012.
To inform EPA
The Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) represents one of the four steps of the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology, which is a standardized procedure (ISO 14040:2006) to estimate the environmental impacts generated by the production, use and disposal of goods and services. In this connection, the calculation of emergy using LCI databases is acknowledged to be of great advantage to improve the accuracy and transparency of the emergy results and their reliability for a broader policy makers and stakeholder community. However, the compatibility of the emergy algebra rules for the complex process-based LCI models, which keep logic of conservation and allocate resources among co-products, is not straightforward and has limited a consistent calculation of emergy in LCA so far. The aim of this paper is to describe the challenges for emergy analysis to be implemented in LCA and specifically to outline possible research paths related to the implementation of the emergy algebra into LCI. The Ecoinvent database represents one of the most advanced life cycle frameworks in terms of data quality and models, with around 4,500 LCI unit processes (i.e. energy generation, materials and agri-food production, infrastructure and transportation). It is structured in a large and complex matrix system with thousands of connections and loops between products and processes. We argue that the implementation of emergy within Ecoinvent and other LCI databases could follow two different paths: 1) by dealing with a rigorous application of the algebraic rules (in compliance with the emergy definition but less feasible in terms of implementation) or 2) by attempting to conceptually modify the rules of emergy (in a formal and comprehensive way) in order to cover the requirements of the LCI models. The benefits and drawbacks of the two approaches are investigated toward a comprehensive formulation of a consistent approach.