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Top-down characterization of resource use in LCA : from problem definition of resource use to operational characterization factors for dissipation of elements to the environment

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Abstract
Purpose: The methods for assessing the impact of using abiotic resources in life cycle assessment (LCA) have always been heavily debated. One of the main reasons for this is the lack of a common understanding of the problem related to resource use. This article reports the results of an effort to reach such common understanding between different stakeholder groups and the LCA community. For this, a top-down approach was applied. Methods: To guide the process, a four-level top-down framework was used to (1) demarcate the problem that needs to be assessed, (2) translate this into a modeling concept, (3) derive mathematical equations and fill these with data necessary to calculate the characterization factors, and (4) align the system boundaries and assumptions that are made in the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) model and the life cycle inventory (LCI) model. Results: We started from the following definition of the problem of using resources: the decrease of accessibility on a global level of primary and/or secondary elements over the very long term or short term due to the net result of compromising actions. The system model distinguishes accessible and inaccessible stocks in both the environment and the technosphere. Human actions can compromise the accessible stock through environmental dissipation, technosphere hibernation, and occupation in use or through exploration. As a basis for impact assessment, we propose two parameters: the global change in accessible stock as a net result of the compromising actions and the global amount of the accessible stock. We propose three impact categories for the use of elements: environmental dissipation, technosphere hibernation, and occupation in use, with associated characterization equations for two different time horizons. Finally, preliminary characterization factors are derived and applied in a simple illustrative case study for environmental dissipation. Conclusions: Due to data constraints, at this moment, only characterization factors for “dissipation to the environment” over a very-long-term time horizon could be elaborated. The case study shows that the calculation of impact scores might be hampered by insufficient LCI data. Most presently available LCI databases are far from complete in registering the flows necessary to assess the impacts on the accessibility of elements. While applying the framework, various choices are made that could plausibly be made differently. We invite our peers to also use this top-down framework when challenging our choices and elaborate that into a consistent set of choices and assumptions when developing LCIA methods.
Keywords
Abiotic resources, Elements, Configurations, Minerals, Metals, Life cycle impact assessment, System model, Characterization model, Characterization factor, Dissipation, LIFE-CYCLE, NATURAL-RESOURCES, PROTECTION, AREA

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MLA
van Oers, Lauran, et al. “Top-down Characterization of Resource Use in LCA : From Problem Definition of Resource Use to Operational Characterization Factors for Dissipation of Elements to the Environment.” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT, vol. 25, no. 11, 2020, pp. 2255–73, doi:10.1007/s11367-020-01819-4.
APA
van Oers, L., Guinée, J. B., Heijungs, R., Schulze, R., Freitas de Alvarenga, R., Dewulf, J., … Torres, J. M. E. (2020). Top-down characterization of resource use in LCA : from problem definition of resource use to operational characterization factors for dissipation of elements to the environment. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT, 25(11), 2255–2273. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-020-01819-4
Chicago author-date
Oers, Lauran van, Jeroen B. Guinée, Reinout Heijungs, Rita Schulze, Rodrigo Freitas de Alvarenga, Jo Dewulf, Johannes Drielsma, et al. 2020. “Top-down Characterization of Resource Use in LCA : From Problem Definition of Resource Use to Operational Characterization Factors for Dissipation of Elements to the Environment.” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT 25 (11): 2255–73. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-020-01819-4.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
van Oers, Lauran, Jeroen B. Guinée, Reinout Heijungs, Rita Schulze, Rodrigo Freitas de Alvarenga, Jo Dewulf, Johannes Drielsma, David Sanjuan Delmas, Tobias C. Kampmann, Glenn Bark, Ainara Garcia Uriarte, Pierre Menger, Mats Lindblom, Lucas Alcon, Manuel Sevilla Ramos, and Juan Manuel Escobar Torres. 2020. “Top-down Characterization of Resource Use in LCA : From Problem Definition of Resource Use to Operational Characterization Factors for Dissipation of Elements to the Environment.” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT 25 (11): 2255–2273. doi:10.1007/s11367-020-01819-4.
Vancouver
1.
van Oers L, Guinée JB, Heijungs R, Schulze R, Freitas de Alvarenga R, Dewulf J, et al. Top-down characterization of resource use in LCA : from problem definition of resource use to operational characterization factors for dissipation of elements to the environment. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT. 2020;25(11):2255–73.
IEEE
[1]
L. van Oers et al., “Top-down characterization of resource use in LCA : from problem definition of resource use to operational characterization factors for dissipation of elements to the environment,” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT, vol. 25, no. 11, pp. 2255–2273, 2020.
@article{8675138,
  abstract     = {{Purpose: The methods for assessing the impact of using abiotic resources in life cycle assessment (LCA) have always been heavily debated. One of the main reasons for this is the lack of a common understanding of the problem related to resource use. This article reports the results of an effort to reach such common understanding between different stakeholder groups and the LCA community. For this, a top-down approach was applied.

Methods: To guide the process, a four-level top-down framework was used to (1) demarcate the problem that needs to be assessed, (2) translate this into a modeling concept, (3) derive mathematical equations and fill these with data necessary to calculate the characterization factors, and (4) align the system boundaries and assumptions that are made in the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) model and the life cycle inventory (LCI) model.

Results: We started from the following definition of the problem of using resources: the decrease of accessibility on a global level of primary and/or secondary elements over the very long term or short term due to the net result of compromising actions. The system model distinguishes accessible and inaccessible stocks in both the environment and the technosphere. Human actions can compromise the accessible stock through environmental dissipation, technosphere hibernation, and occupation in use or through exploration. As a basis for impact assessment, we propose two parameters: the global change in accessible stock as a net result of the compromising actions and the global amount of the accessible stock. We propose three impact categories for the use of elements: environmental dissipation, technosphere hibernation, and occupation in use, with associated characterization equations
for two different time horizons. Finally, preliminary characterization factors are derived and applied in a simple illustrative case study for environmental dissipation.

Conclusions: Due to data constraints, at this moment, only characterization factors for “dissipation to the environment” over a very-long-term time horizon could be elaborated. The case study shows that the calculation of impact scores might be hampered by insufficient LCI data. Most presently available LCI databases are far from complete in registering the flows necessary to assess the impacts on the accessibility of elements. While applying the framework, various choices are made that could plausibly be made differently. We invite our peers to also use this top-down framework when challenging our choices and elaborate that into a consistent set of choices and assumptions when developing LCIA methods.}},
  author       = {{van Oers, Lauran and Guinée, Jeroen B. and Heijungs, Reinout and Schulze, Rita and Freitas de Alvarenga, Rodrigo and Dewulf, Jo and Drielsma, Johannes and Sanjuan Delmas, David and Kampmann, Tobias C. and Bark, Glenn and Uriarte, Ainara Garcia and Menger, Pierre and Lindblom, Mats and Alcon, Lucas and Ramos, Manuel Sevilla and Torres, Juan Manuel Escobar}},
  issn         = {{0948-3349}},
  journal      = {{INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT}},
  keywords     = {{Abiotic resources,Elements,Configurations,Minerals,Metals,Life cycle impact assessment,System model,Characterization model,Characterization factor,Dissipation,LIFE-CYCLE,NATURAL-RESOURCES,PROTECTION,AREA}},
  language     = {{eng}},
  number       = {{11}},
  pages        = {{2255--2273}},
  title        = {{Top-down characterization of resource use in LCA : from problem definition of resource use to operational characterization factors for dissipation of elements to the environment}},
  url          = {{http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11367-020-01819-4}},
  volume       = {{25}},
  year         = {{2020}},
}

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