It involves material and energy balances along the energy generation and consumption processes, with a view to identifying energy saving opportunities throughout the production and consumption chain. Given the close relationship between energy consumption, material consumption and waste emissions, it was consolidated and unified into a single methodology currently known as Life Cycle Assessment.
Currently, LCA is an environmental management tool that, through analysis, allows the design of less polluting processes. LCA has been incorporated in the development of eco-labeling systems, in the formulation of guidelines for the development of “environmentally friendly products” and in ISO standards. ISO regulations have several standards associated with the implementation of LCA (ISO 14040 to ISO 14049).
General Objective: Identify the inputs and outputs of each stage of the production process (extraction, production, distribution, use and disposal) to optimize consumption and manage impacts on the environment.
- Identify environmental impacts of the usage of raw materials.
- Minimize waste generation.
- Optimize product design.
- Minimize energy consumption.
- Reduce Greenhouse House Gas (GHG) emissions.
- Encourage investment in new and clean technologies.
- Positive impact on suppliers that are involved in the production chain.
In broad lines, the LCA has 4 components:
- Definition of objectives and scope, Within the scope, the components of the life cycle are identified: extraction of raw materials, manufacturing and processing, transportation, storage, consumption and final waste disposal (recycling, reuse or disposal). This is a critical point because it is necessary to set limits to its extension.
- Inventory analysis, in which, by using a specialized software with extensive inventory databases, the balances of matter and energy per contracted life cycle component are carried out, quantifying the relevant inputs and outputs of the products.
- Evaluation of potential environmental impacts, qualitatively analyzing not only the potential environmental impacts, but also the social component.
- Interpretation of results, based on the above points. Improvement points are identified and evaluated to reduce the relevant impacts.
The LCA is a technique that allows to identify the environmental and social aspects and impacts associated with a product. It helps to generate a precise framework of action that will improve the impact on cost reduction, production time optimization, compliance with current environmental legislation, protection of the key environment for the production system, product improvements, enhancement of new materials, identification of bottlenecks, among other benefits.
In summary: Product design and improvement, strategic planning, policy development and implementation, marketing, etc.
The duration of the work is established according to the scope and depending on the complexity of the life cycle to be analyzed, the number of components, products and whether it is a part or a whole (example: LCA of a computer screen vs. the LCA of the complete computer with all its parts)