Life cycle assessment in the development of forest products: Contributions to improved methods and practices
Doktorsavhandling, 2015

The prospect of reducing environmental impacts is a key driver for the research and development (R&D) of new forest products. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is often used for assessing the environmental impact of such products, e.g. for the purpose of guiding R&D. The aim of this thesis is to improve the methods and practices of LCA work carried out in the R&D of forest products. Six research questions were formulated from research needs identified in LCA work in five technical inter-organisational R&D projects. These projects also provided contexts for the case studies that were used to address the research questions. The main contributions of the research are as follows: Regarding the planning of LCA work in inter-organisational R&D projects, the research identified four characteristics that appear to be important to consider when selecting the roles of LCAs in such projects: (i) the project’s potential influence on environmental impacts, (ii) the degrees of freedom available for the technical direction of the project, (iii) the project’s potential to provide required input to the LCA, and (iv) access to relevant audiences for the LCA results. Regarding the modelling of future forest product systems, it was found that (i) it is important to capture uncertainties related to the technologies of end-of-life processes, the location of processes and the occurrence of land use change; and (ii) the choice of method for handling multi-functionality can strongly influence results in LCAs of forest products, particularly in consequential studies and in studies of relatively small co-product flows. Regarding the assessment of environmental impacts of particular relevance for forest products, it was found that using established climate impact assessment practices can cause LCA practitioners to miss environmental hot-spots and make erroneous conclusions about the performance of forest products vis-à-vis non-forest alternatives, particularly in studies aimed at short-term impact mitigation. Also, a new approach for inventorying water cycle alterations was developed, which made it possible to capture catchment-scale effects of forestry never captured before. To connect the LCA results to global challenges, a procedure was proposed for translating the planetary boundaries into absolute product-scale targets for impact reduction, e.g. to be used for evaluating interventions for product improvements or for managing trade-offs between impact categories.

R&D

planetary boundaries

impact assessment

multi-functional

allocation

LCA

scenario modelling

end-of-life modelling

wood

forestry

KB-salen, Kemigården 4, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg
Opponent: Prof. Michael Narodoslawsky, Graz University of Technology, Austria

Författare

Gustav A Sandin

Chalmers, Kemi- och bioteknik, Kemisk miljövetenskap

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Det finns stora förhoppningar om att produkter från skogsråvara som ersätter andra produkter ska bidra till ett miljömässigt mer hållbart samhälle. Att en produkt är tillverkad från skogsråvara är dock ingen garanti för att den är fördelaktig ur miljösynpunkt. I projekt som syftar till att utveckla nya skogsprodukter används därför ofta livscykelanalys (LCA) för att utvärdera produktens miljöprestanda. Denna kunskap kan, till exempel, vägleda utvecklingsprocessen och bidra till en miljömässigt bättre produkt.

Forskningen i denna avhandling syftar till att förbättra LCA-metodik och användning av LCA i projekt där målet är att utveckla nya skogsprodukter. Resultat från forskningen har bland annat visat på:

• Fyra egenskaper hos produktutvecklingsprojekt som är viktiga att beakta när man bestämmer vilken roll LCA ska ha i projektet. • Osäkerheter som är viktiga att beakta när man beskriver en skogsprodukts livscykel, till exempel geografisk lokalisering av processer i livscykeln (t ex skogsbruket) och hur produkten slutligen kasseras. • Brister hos etablerade metoder för att bedöma skogsprodukters klimatpåverkan. • Ett nytt angreppssätt för bedömning av hur skogsbruket påverkar vattenkretsloppet. • En ny metod för att översätta globala miljöutmaningar (så kallade ”planetära gränser”) till mål för minskad miljöpåverkan på produktnivå.

There are great expectations that by replacing today’s products with wood-based products we will contribute to the environmental sustainability of society. But the use of forest biomass as a feedstock is no guarantee that an end product is environmentally superior to non-forest alternatives. Therefore, life cycle assessment (LCA) is commonly used in product development projects to assess the potential environmental impact of the new product. This knowledge can, for example, guide the design process and contribute to an environmentally improved product.

The purpose of the research in this thesis is to improve LCA methods and practices in projects aimed at developing new forest products. Among others, results from the research have shown:

• Four characteristics of development projects that are important to account for when selecting the role of LCA in such projects. • Uncertainties that are important to account for when describing a forest product life cycle, including the geographical location of processes in the life cycle (e.g. forestry operations) and how the product is eventually disposed of. • Shortcomings of current methods and practices for climate impact assessment in LCAs of forest products. • A new approach for assessing how forestry impacts the water cycle. • A new procedure for translating global environmental challenges (so-called “planetary boundaries”) into product-scale targets for reducing environmental impacts.

Drivkrafter

Hållbar utveckling

Ämneskategorier

Kemiteknik

ISBN

978-91-7597-163-6

Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola. Ny serie

KB-salen, Kemigården 4, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg

Opponent: Prof. Michael Narodoslawsky, Graz University of Technology, Austria