Simply claiming products are “green,” “ecologically-friendly,” or “sustainable” is no longer good enough. Overused words, phrases, and claims such as these often become meaningless. This has paved the way for Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).
LCA is a methodology used to provide evidence. By identifying the sustainability targets we hope to achieve and then determining how a product and its manufacturing process impacts that target, we are able to develop quantifiable, supporting data to validate our claims.
LCA is used across industry sectors, particularly in Automotive and Consumer Electronics. These industries can significantly improve their impact on the environment and/or have consumer pressure to address sustainability concerns.
According to Trinseo’s Frank Schumann, Global Marketing Manager, Automotive, the top sustainability concerns globally are to avoid global warming, and also the depletion of our natural resources, namely water and energy. Acceptable metrics to measure these targets are: CO2 emissions released and water and energy consumed.
These sustainability concerns can be expanded, he adds, to include other areas that influence human life such as land use, deforestation, child labor, or impact on the food supply. After all, the definition of sustainability is broad -- to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs – and the ramification of our actions and the impact of the products we create are often far reaching.
A Process Flow Starts It All
Wherever the starting point, the key is to build a process flow and measure each step in the production process. This will include the raw materials, how they were extracted, transportation, and the natural resources consumed during the manufacturing process.
It will also include the analysis of the output, or the final product. What becomes of it? Will it go into a larger product or application? Does the final product or application have an impact on our sustainability goals?
A simple example of LCA, and one that Trinseo is involved with all the time, is to determine the sustainability impact of replacing a traditional ingredient with a sustainable alternative. Trinseo did this when it introduced a sustainable alternative to the PULSE™ GX Series of resins, which is manufactured with a combination of petroleum-based polycarbonate and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS.)
The alternative, our PULSE™ ECO grades, replace the polycarbonate portion with post-industrial recycled (PIR) polycarbonate, i.e., a material that had already been manufactured, was considered scrap, and was reclaimed from an industrial setting. Using LCA, we were able to quantify the CO2 emissions saved in the PIR / polycarbonate portion, since CO2 had been emitted when the material was initially processed. Other parameters that influence the LCA results are water and energy savings, emissions associated with the transportation of the goods to the manufacturing facility and even the benefits from using a lighter material in the final application.
One can see that an LCA process can be complex and multifaceted. The data required to conduct the analysis is not always readily available and sometimes a process needs to be put in place to collect it. While it can be done internally, an objective third party is often chosen to conduct the analysis.
According to Schumann, Trinseo collaborated with a university in Germany to conduct LCA on its polycarbonate plant in Stade, Germany to certify the sustainability claims regarding its operations. This required an analysis of various criteria involved in the production of 1 kg of polycarbonate, followed by an extrapolation of the data to facility-level production capacity.
Clearly LCA is a growing trend. In most circles, the analysis is not a requirement yet soon companies and customers will undoubtedly ask for it, specifying what thresholds need to be attained, similar to how performance attributes are specified today. Consumers too will be more accustomed to seeing this type of information on their products, like they do, to some extent, on new vehicle stickers.
“It’s all about making a process visible and following the flow of materials and resources used. I like to say we’re demystifying and putting numbers to a great big black box,” said Schumann.
“绿色”、“生态友好”或者“可持续”等宣传用语在市场上已司空见惯，而空喊这些陈词滥调其实没有什么意义。于是，生命周期评估 (LCA) 应运而生。
盛禧奥汽车业务全球营销经理 Frank Schumann 表示，全球最受关注的可持续性问题是避免全球变暖以及防止自然资源（即水和能源）枯竭。用于衡量上述目标的可接受指标为：二氧化碳的排放量以及水和能源的消耗量。
LCA 的一个简单示例（同时也是盛禧奥一直都在做的一件事）就是确定用可持续替代品代替传统成分在可持续发展方面产生的影响。盛禧奥在推出 PULSE™ GX 系列树脂的可持续替代品时开展了这项工作，该系列树脂由石油基聚碳酸酯和丙烯腈-丁二烯-苯乙烯 (ABS) 结合而成。
盛禧奥推出的替代产品，即 PULSE™ ECO 系列产品，用后工业回收（简称 PIR，即已制造完成的材料被认为是废料，并且在工业环境中被回收）聚碳酸酯替代了聚碳酸酯部分。我们能够通过 LCA 量化由 PIR/聚碳酸酯部分减少的 CO2 排放量，因为在最初的材料处理过程中就已经产生了 CO2 排放。影响 LCA 结果的其他参数包括节水和节能、将货物运输到制造工厂所产生的排放，甚至在最终应用中使用较轻的材料所带来的益处。
据 Schumann 所说，盛禧奥与德国一所大学合作，对其位于德国施塔德的聚碳酸酯工厂进行 LCA，以证明其运营的可持续性。这就需要分析生产 1 公斤聚碳酸酯所涉及的各种标准，然后将数据外推到工厂规模的产能。