Researchers Honored for Life Cycle Assessment Work

The American Center for Life Cycle Assessment (ACLCA) recently honored extraordinary leaders in life cycle assessment (LCA) at the LCA XVII Awards Dinner in Porthsmouth, New Hampshire. Among the winners was the Federal LCA Commons, of which Forest Products Laboratory researchers Richard Bergman, Hongmei Gu, and Shaobo Liang are a part. Continue reading

Life-Cycle Analysis of Redwood Decking

Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) scientist Rick Bergman recently led a life-cycle assessment study of redwood decking in the United States. In cooperation with the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials (CORRIM), the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, and Humboldt State University, Department of Forestry and Wildland Resources, researchers compared the use of redwood with three other decking materials.

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Complete life cycle from regeneration of trees to disposal of wood materials

Life-cycle inventory (LCI) and life-cycle assessment (LCA) are terms we’ve been hearing around FPL in recent years with increasing attention to “green building” practices. The term life cycle connotes a fair, holistic assessment to consider all aspects of the product: raw-material production, manufacture, distribution, use, and disposal, including all intervening transportation steps.

The goal for Bergman and his fellow researchers was to conduct an LCI of California redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) decking that would quantify the critical environmental effects of decking from cradle to grave. Using LCI data, the scientists produced a life-cycle assessment for redwood decking. These results were used to compare the environmental footprint of redwood decking to similar decking materials made of plastic (cellular PVC) and wood–plastic composites.

Results of the study showed the total energy expended for redwood was substantially lower than that for the other decking products. The ranking for redwood decking was the result of the product’s ability to store carbon, originally sequestered from the atmosphere, over the life of the product.

 

 

A Tool for Environmental Decision Making

Life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a technique used to assess environmental impacts associated with all stages of a product’s life. Researchers in the Forest Products Laboratory’s Economics, Statistics, and Life Cycle Analysis Research group use this technique to study a wide variety of wood products, from building materials to bioenergy resources.

The goal of LCA is to compare the full range of environmental effects assignable to products and services. LCA results can be used to improve processes, support policy, and provide a sound basis for informed decisions.

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Life Cycle Assessment phases

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an LCA can assess the environmental aspects and potential impacts associated with a product, process, or service, by the following:

• Compiling an inventory of relevant energy and material inputs and environmental releases;
• Evaluating the potential impacts associated with identified inputs and releases;
• Interpreting the results to help make a more informed decision.

The EPA also describes the major stages in an LCA study as: raw material acquisition, materials manufacture, production, use/reuse/maintenance, and waste management. They go on to advise that “Companies, federal facilities, industry organizations, and academia can benefit from learning how to incorporate environmental performance based on the life cycle concept into their decision-making processes.”

The four basic phases of conducting a Life Cycle Assessment are: goal and scope definition, inventory analysis, impact assessment, and interpretation. LCA studies include all stages, but a life-cycle inventory (LCI) study does not include stage 3, the impact assessment.