Implications of spatial differentiation on LCA-based decision-making: a case study of biochar systems in Indonesia

Mikolaj Owsianiak, Gerard Cornelissen, S. E. Hale, Henrik Lindhjem, Magnus Sparrevik

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    The development of spatially differentiated life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) methods and their use in regionalized life cycle assessment (LCA) has intensified in the past few years. However, it is less investigated whether spatial differentiation leads to more correct decisions based on the LCA, in addition to just more accurate and realistic LCIA results. The aim of this work was therefore to assess the implications of spatial differentiation on the interpretation phase of a comparative LCA. Biochar production from biomass residues and its use as soil conditioner in Indonesia was used as case study. Comparisons were made between 4 villages, 3 biochar production techniques, and 2 fertilization strategies. Results showed that (i) regionalized impact scores for individual impact categories either increased or decreased compared with site-generic scores, depending on the impact category (by up to 1 order of magnitude); (ii) total damages to human health were approximately 3 to 5 times higher when compared to site-generic scores and (iv) irrespective of the geographic locations, regionalized total damages to biodiversity were close to site-generic scores. This is mainly because of trade-offs between categories, where increase in impact scores for some categories was compensated by decrease in others. Overall, irrespective of the approach to spatial differentiation in LCIA, biochar production and use in agriculture is generally expected to bring environmental benefits. When parameter and inventory uncertainties were considered, there was no influence of spatial differentiation on identification of best performing villages in terms of total damage to human health and ecosystems, although village performing worst with regard to total damage to human health changed. There was a general tendency that biochar production using both Kon Tiki and Adam retort kilns performed better than earth-mound kiln, and furthermore biochars brought largest benefits where no-biochar agricultural production systems were based on inorganic fertilizers. This rather consistent ranking was mainly due to relatively large geographic differences in life cycle inventories between villages, which were often larger than geographic differences in characterization factors between site-specific and site-generic approaches. Thus, although spatial differentiation improved accuracy and realism of environmental impacts in this comparative case study, it did not necessarily contribute to more correct decisions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication date2018
    Publication statusPublished - 2018
    EventSETAC Europe 28th Annual Meeting - Rome, Italy
    Duration: 13 May 201817 May 2018


    ConferenceSETAC Europe 28th Annual Meeting


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