Development of a regionalized chemicals and plastics LCI database for robust environmental decision support

Main Presenter: Laura Stellner 

Co-Authors: Arne Kätelhön Raoul Meys

In the context of a global commitment to mitigate climate change, chemical industry stakeholders are increasingly searching for strategies towards a more environmentally friendly future. To evaluate such strategies, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a powerful tool to assess environmental impacts of products and services, by providing a holistic view across environmental impact categories and life cycle stages. However, to provide a reliable basis for decision-making, LCA studies for the chemical and plastics industry require a large amount of data on chemical products and processes. Gathering this data is especially challenging for industries with highly complex and globalized production chains.

To support decision making, we developed a novel LCA database compliant with ISO 14040 and 14044. Our chemical and plastics database currently contains approx. 1000 chemicals and plastics in up to 190 regions. The database is derived from a regionalized model of the global chemical and plastics industry, built from technical data on all production technologies as well as market and trade data, which enables chemicals to be tracked throughout the global economy. Our bottom-up approach starts at the chemical plant level, linking information about the production site, production volume, and production technology to detailed technical models for each production technology. Subsequently, these individual plants are allocated to integrated production sites, such that interactions between production plants within the integrated production site can be modeled. Afterwards, national production mixes, technology-specific production mixes, or supplier-specific production mixes are determined by calculating production volume-weighted averages of the respective production plants. Moreover, national consumption mixes are calculated by combining national production mix information with trade data.

The novel LCI database aims to provide consistent and representative LCI data of chemicals and plastics, considering the entire supply chain and mapping differences between production technologies and locations, suppliers, or regions of chemical products. Our results show significant differences between regional production or consumption mixes. For example, the climate impact of the regional production mixes for polypropylene varies by a factor of 4, with China having the largest climate impact. Due to our modeling approach, we found valuable reduction potentials to supply chain emissions using supplier-specific carbon footprints. In total, the average climate impact reduction potential across more than 80 large-volume chemicals show that the choice of suppliers can reduce 38% of the climate impact. This data supports LCA practitioners in conducting more representative and reliable LCA studies leading to robust environmental decision support.

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