Applying cumulative exergy demand (CExD) indicators to the ecoinvent database

Bösch, Michael ; Hellweg, Stefanie ; Huijbregts, Mark ; Frischknecht, Rolf

In: The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 2007, vol. 12, no. 3, p. 181-190

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    Goal, Scope and Background: Exergy has been put forward as an indicator for the energetic quality of resources. The exergy of a resource accounts for the minimal work necessary to form the resource or for the maximally obtainable amount of work when bringing the resource's components to their most common state in the natural environment. Exergy measures are traditionally applied to assess energy efficiency, regarding the exergy losses in a process system. However, the measure can be utilised as an indicator of resource quality demand when considering the specific resources that contain the exergy. Such an exergy measure indicates the required resources and assesses the total exergy removal from nature in order to provide a product, process or service. In the current work, the exergy concept is combined with a large number of life cycle inventory datasets available with ecoinvent data v1.2. The goal was, first, to provide an additional impact category indicator to Life-Cycle Assessment practitioners. Second, this work aims at making a large source of exergy scores available to scientific communities that apply exergy as a primary indicator for energy efficiency and resource quality demand. Methods: The indicator Cumulative Exergy Demand (CExD) is introduced to depict total exergy removal from nature to provide a product, summing up the exergy of all resources required. CExD assesses the quality of energy demand and includes the exergy of energy carriers as well as of non-energetic materials. In the current paper, the exergy concept was applied to the resources contained in the ecoinvent database, considering chemical, kinetic, hydro-potential, nuclear, solar-radiative and thermal exergies. The impact category indicator is grouped into the eight resource categories fossil, nuclear, hydropower, biomass, other renewables, water, minerals, and metals. Exergy characterization factors for 112 different resources were included in the calculations. Results: CExD was calculated for 2630 ecoinvent product and process systems. The results are presented as average values and for 26 specific groups containing 1197 products, processes and infrastructure units. Depending on the process/product group considered, energetic resources make up between 9% and 100% of the total CExD, with an average contribution of 88%. The exergy of water contributes on the average to 8% the total exergy demand, but to more than 90% in specific process groups. The average contribution of minerals and metal ores is 4%, but shows an average value as high as 38% and 13%, in metallic products and in building materials, respectively. Looking at individual processes, the contribution of the resource categories varies substantially from these average product group values. In comparison to Cumulative Energy Demand (CED) and the abiotic-resource-depletion category of CML 2001 (CML'01), non-energetic resources tend to be weighted more strongly by the CExD method. Discussion: Energy and matter used in a society are not destroyed but only transformed. What is consumed and eventually depleted is usable energy and usable matter. Exergy is a measure of such useful energy. Therefore, CExD is a suitable energy based indicator for the quality of resources that are removed from nature. Similar to CED, CExD assesses energy use, but regards the quality of the energy and incorporates non-energetic materials like minerals and metals. However, it can be observed for non-renewable energy-intensive products that CExD is very similar to CED. Since CExD considers energetic and non-energetic resources on the basis of exhaustible exergy, the measure is comparable to resource indicators like the resource use category of Eco-indicator 99 and the resource depletion category of CML 2001. An advantage of CExD in comparison to these methods is that exergy is an inherent property of the resource. Therefore less assumptions and subjective choices need to be made in setting up characterization factors. However, CExD does not coversocietal demand (distinguishing between basic demand and luxury), availability or scarcity of the resource. As a consequence of the different weighting approach, CExD may differ considerably from the resource category indicators in Eco-indicator 99 and CML 2001. Conclusions: The current work shows that the exergy concept can be operationalised in product life cycle assessments. CExD is a suitable indicator to assess energy and resource demand. Due to the consideration of the quality of energy and the integration of non-energetic resources, CExD is a more comprehensive indicator than the widely used CED. All of the eight CExD categories proposed are significant contributors to Cumulative Exergy Demand in at least one of the product groups analysed. In product or service assessments and comparative assertions, a careful and concious selection of the appropriate CExD-categories is required based on the energy and resource quality demand concept to be expressed by CExD. Recommendations and Perspectives: A differentiation between the exergy of fossil, nuclear, hydro-potential, biomass, other renewables, water and mineral/metal resources is recommended in order to obtain a more detailed picture of resource quality demand and to recognise trade-offs between resource use, for instance energetic and non-energetic raw materials, or nonrenewable and renewable energies