Volume 110, Number 4, 2013
|Page(s)||249 - 264|
|Published online||10 July 2013|
Emergy-based mid-point valuation of ecosystem goods and services for life cycle impact assessment
Public Research Centre Henri Tudor (CRPHT)/Resource Centre for
Environmental Technologies (CRTE), 6A avenue des Hauts-Fourneaux,
2 Université de Toulouse, INSA, UPS, INP, LISBP, 135 avenue de Rangueil, 31077 Toulouse, France
3 INRA, UMR 792, Laboratoire d’Ingénierie des Systèmes Biologiques et des Procédés, 31400 Toulouse, France
4 CNRS, UMR 5504, 31400 Toulouse, France
Accepted: 29 May 2013
Ecosystem goods and services (EGSs) are of crucial importance for the economic and social development of human communities. The well-established life cycle assessment (LCA) method is facing a number of challenging improvements to define new Characterization factors (CFs) for life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) of EGSs. Very recently, extensive work conducted under the UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle initiative has been completed with the goal of providing new LCIA methods and spatially differentiated mid-point CFs for land use and land use change impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services. However, the implemented models do not enable one to assess the actual damage to ecosystem functionality, and thus the relationship among EGSs and related areas of protection (e.g. AoP of “Natural Resources”) remains undefined. This paper aims at investigating the potential characterization ability of the Emergy method for LCIA of EGSs. The goal is to use the extensive libraries of Unit Emergy Values (UEVs) of primary services and resources as CFs for LCIA to evaluate the physical contribution of EGSs in supporting life cycle processes. Having its roots in thermodynamics and systems ecology, Emergy can appraise a larger and more diversified (than LCA) number of EGSs through a common physical denominator, i.e. the solar emjoule or seJ, which measures the solar energy embodied in natural products. Emergy thus has a typical Nature-oriented perspective, accounting for the available energy that is used up by the natural cycles, directly and indirectly, to generate biotic and abiotic resources. A library of selected UEVs (more than 100) for biophysical EGS valuation has been framed including values collected from the Emergy literature and formulated on the latest planetary baseline (i.e. 15.2E + 24 seJ/yr). Advantages and limitations for future application of these values toward an LCIA mid-point impact characterization of Emergy are discussed. UEVs may represent mid-point LCIA factors for ecological contribution analysis, enabling one to account for the memory of energy previously required to produce EGSs, which can be used as a proxy to assess the future environmental work necessary to regenerate the used EGSs. However, the added value of Emergy for LCA is still debated, mainly because of the low accuracy and unclear meaning of the UEVs in relation to the availability of resources. Therefore, Emergy can be conceived as a suitable physical measure complementary to the economic valuations and current “user-side” tools applied in LCA.
Key words: Ecosystem goods and services / emergy / characterization factor (CF) / life cycle assessment (LCA) / life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) / resource / unit emergy value (UEV)
© EDP Sciences 2013
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