1.3.3 LCA studies within research projects of the Energy-Efficient Building European Initiative (E2B EI)

In numerous European research projects, LCA is used as a supporting study method that is typically seen to be somewhat independent from the rest of the project. If, for instance, LCA is used at the end of a project, the environmental optimization potentials cannot be exploited, as the LCA results cannot be fed back into the technology development cycle.

This guidance document is aimed at improving the use of LCA within such research projects. This chapter therefore gives guidance on how LCA studies should preferably be conducted in European research projects of the Energy-Efficient Building European Initiative (E2B EI).

The primary decision to be made during the compilation of a project proposal is whether LCA should be used as a comparison method for a developed technology (i.e. the developed technology is assessed against a reference scenario that, for example, reflects the conventional alternative technology), or whether it should be used as a decision support tool, identifying environmental weak points in technical designs and associated improvement potentials that can be realized during technology development. In both cases, certain considerations need to be addressed.

For LCA as an ex-post assessment of a developed technology, such considerations include the following:

  • Data supply: The critical barrier to obtaining meaningful LCA results is the lack of specific data. LCA is typically not taken into consideration during technology development processes, and no responsibility is defined for the provision of data. Moreover, intellectual property concerns may hinder the provision of data.

This needs to be taken into account by ensuring that, within the work items of technology development, one or several participants are mandated to provide information to the LCA work team.

  • Definition of objectives for the LCA study: Often, the expectations of participants in a research project concerning the results available from the LCA study do not match the results that the study can provide.

Within a project consortium, the expected and possible outcome of an LCA study should be made clear for all stakeholders involved. This includes discussion of the questions that the study needs to answer, the associated level of detail for the study, and the corresponding requirement for data. Also, sufficient resources need to be allocated to the LCA work item to meet the expected outcome.

  • Usually, it is advisable to define one stand-alone work item (a work package or a task within a work package) for the LCA calculation, and to define data collection for the LCA study as part of technology-related work packages. LCA is a flexible and iterative methodology, and the findings and results of its various steps will influence subsequent ones. For this reason, it is also advisable that the LCA work item duration be suitable and sufficient to provide relevant feedback to other work items of the project.

For LCA as a decision support tool in technology development, such considerations include the following:

  • Integration into the development cycle: To use LCA as a supporting tool within technology development, the LCA study work item should be included directly in the technology development work item. This supports direct interaction between the LCA experts and the technology development experts, and ensures direct data exchange. It also means that procedures need to be established that allow the technology development to consider relevant LCA results, and that the exchange between technology development and the LCA study needs to be set up with iterative cycles.
  • Iterative approach to LCA: The results are only as meaningful as the technical data that is fed into the LCA calculations. This means that a procedure should be established that takes account of the fact that imprecise data are provided in the early design stages, and that imprecise LCA feedback is provided then. With several iteration cycles, the data provision and LCA feedback have to be refined in a stepwise fashion.
  • Such a use of LCA is challenging, because it requires significant flexibility from all actors, and asks for innovative development procedures. But it also it has the potential to yield the best outcome in terms of improving the environmental performance of a technical system, which should always be the ultimate goal of using environmental assessment methods.

1 Introduction

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