A global approach for sparse representation of uncertainty in Life Cycle Assessments of waste management systems

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Purpose: Identification of key inputs and their effect on results from Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) models is fundamental. Because parameter importance varies greatly between cases due to the interaction of sensitivity and uncertainty, these features should never be defined a priori. However, exhaustive parametrical uncertainty analyses may potentially be complicated and demanding, both with analytical and sampling methods. Therefore, we propose a systematic method for selection of critical parameters based on a simplified analytical formulation that unifies the concepts of sensitivity and uncertainty in a Global Sensitivity Analysis (GSA) framework. Methods: The proposed analytical method based on the calculation of sensitivity coefficients (SC) is evaluated against Monte Carlo sampling on traditional uncertainty assessment procedures, both for individual parameters and for full parameter sets. Three full-scale waste management scenarios are modelled with the dedicated waste LCA model EASETECH and a full range of ILCD recommended impact categories. Common uncertainty ranges of 10 % are used for all parameters, which we assume to be normally distributed. The applicability of the concepts of additivity of variances and GSA is tested on results from both uncertainty propagation methods. Then, we examine the differences in discernibility analyses results carried out with varying numbers of sampling points and parameters. Results and discussion: The proposed analytical method complies with the Monte Carlo results for all scenarios and impact categories, but offers substantially simpler mathematical formulation and shorter computation times. The coefficients of variation obtained with the analytical method and Monte Carlo differ only by 1 %, indicating that the analytical method provides a reliable representation of uncertainties and allows determination of whether a discernibility analysis is required. The additivity of variances and the GSA approach show that the uncertainty in results is determined by a limited set of important parameters. The results of the discernibility analysis based on these critical parameters vary only by 1 % from discernibility analyses based on the full set, but require significantly fewer Monte Carlo runs. Conclusions: The proposed method and GSA framework provide a fast and valuable approximation for uncertainty quantification. Uncertainty can be represented sparsely by contextually identifying important parameters in a systematic manner. The proposed method integrates with existing step-wise approaches for uncertainty analysis by introducing a global importance analysis before uncertainty propagation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)378-394
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Erratum to this article can be found at dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11367-016-1259-6

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