First, let’s define life cycle analysis.
A life cycle analysis (LCA) is an essential tool in establishing baseline environmental impacts from a specific process, product, or infrastructure, and can also connect economic and social impacts depending on the end goal. Ideally the main outcome of an LCA is a detailed quantitative documentation of environmental impacts for a process or product from cradle to grave, meaning cultivation and manufacturing of each feedstock to the end use or disposal. The analysis may include one or multiple impacts with the most common being: greenhouse gas (GHG) and other air emissions, water use and pollutants, energy usage, and waste production. When conducting an LCA it is important to consider the implications of system boundaries, feedstocks, energy use, co-product emission allocation methods, product end use, and differences in framework guidance. LCA experts have experience with many applications of life cycle analysis and can help clients navigate the complex nature of LCA implementation, as it can be a large undertaking.
So what does a life cycle analysis expert do?
LCA consultants can use life cycle analysis to assist clients in several ways. LCA modeling is a useful business tool in the process design phase when determining which combination of process options will result in the most sustainable process during initial design or upgrades of a system. Creating LCA models can help rank process variables with highest impact and understand how variables interact to reduce and minimize overall impacts. Similarly, LCA can be used to determine whether acquisition of an operation will be a sustainable investment. Stakeholder and consumer demands are increasingly driving the use of LCA across many sectors such as manufacturing and fuels. Life cycle analysis is commonly used to establish the benefits of switching to bio-based, renewable resources when compared to the business as usual or petroleum-based alternative. LCA consultants with regulatory experience can be valuable in helping navigate and applying required frameworks in alignment with the multitude of product certifications and governmental incentive programs. Some common applications of LCA frameworks include certification under ISO 14040 standards for sustainable operation, and generation of credits for GHG reduction in the biofuels market, such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the California Air Resource Board’s (CARB) Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), as well as the European Union’s (EU) Renewable Energy Directive (RED). An LCA expert can evaluate products and processes to benchmark against industry norms or to identify opportunities to reduce those impacts. Taking LCA application one step further, an LCA expert can tie LCA and business models together to optimize that balance of impacts and operations for a more sustainable solution.
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