Using Prospective LCA for the Assessment of Circular Economy Measures

Main Presenter:    Anne-Marie Isbert 

Co-Authors:   Sofia Haas     Anika Neitz-Regett                                          

To reach the defined climate targets, it is essential to transform the sector with the highest share in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – the energy sector. This transformation comes with an expansion of newly built renewable energy plants, associated with increased material requirements and related GHG emissions. The circular economy (CE) approach, including measures for lifetime extension, resource recovery and circular design, is one way to mitigate these GHG emissions and to ensure a successful energy transition [1].
The study highlights the role of prospective Life Cycle Assessment (pLCA) as a method to assess the environmental impacts of CE measures. It shows, that the pLCA enables the assessment of CE approaches by integrating prospective aspects as changes in processes over time as well as time-shifting effects of CE measures into the traditional LCA model.
Firstly, to combine CE and pLCA possible circular economy measures for onshore wind turbines are researched. As each measure affects different parts of the life cycle a mapping of the CE measures and the affected life cycle phases of wind power plants is conducted. This is the basis for the identification of necessary data to assess the environmental impacts of CE measures.
Secondly, a pLCA is carried out for the CE measures lifetime extension and recycling for onshore wind turbines. Amongst others, the foreground model takes into account the electricity mix, production processes for materials, efficiency of the production processes, energy and material demand for reparation, refurbishment or remanufacture of the wind turbine as well as recycling processes. For all of these processes prospective data for material, energy and environmental flows are collected and the results of the pLCA are shown. The result for the required data, the pLCA of the future German electricity mix [2] is shown, emphasizing the relevance of background adaptation, as the two calculations (with and without background adaptation) lead to significant differences in results for future years. By conducting a pLCA for the CE measures lifetime extension and recycling for onshore wind turbines, the study points out the necessary adaptation of foreground and background systems and the
required data.
The presentation concludes by discussing how these results can be used for the identification of an optimal lifetime, the so-called ecological break-even. Furthermore, the question, how the presented pLCA methodology can be put into practice and to guide decision-makers toward implementing circular measures effectively for a sustainable energy transition, is critically discussed.

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