Fire LCAIntegrating the environmental impact of consumer product fires into life-cycle assessments
Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a versatile tool to investigate the environmental aspects of a product, a process or an activity by identifying and quantifying energy and material flows for the system. The use of a product or a process involves much more than just the production of the product or use of the process. Every single industrial activity is actually a complex network of activities that involves many different parts of the society. Therefore, the need for a system perspective rather than a single object perspective has become vital in modern research. It is no longer enough to consider just a single step in the production. The entire system has to be considered. The Life-Cycle Assessment methodology has been developed in order to handle this system approach. A Life-Cycle Assessment covers the entire life-cycle from "cradle to grave" including crude material extraction, manufacturing, transport and distribution, product use, service and maintenance, product recycling, material recycling and final waste handling such as incineration or landfill. With LCA methodology it is possible to study complex systems where interactions between different parts of the system exit.
The prime objectives are:
- to provide as complete a picture as possible of the interactions of an activity with the environment;
- to contribute to the understanding of the overall and interdependent nature of the environmental consequences of human activities; and,
- to provide decision-makers with information that defines the environmental effects of these activities and identifies opportunities for environmental improvements.
The Life-Cycle Assessment methodology that has been used in the Fire-LCA series of projects is based on standard LCA methodology. This methodology is described in the ISO standard 14000-series and the ILCD Handbook.
In a conventional Life-Cycle Assessment the risk factors for accidental spills are excluded. For example, in the LCA data for the production of a chemical, only factors during normal operation are considered. However, there can also be, for example, emissions during an accident in the factory. Those emissions are very difficult to estimate due to a lack of statistical data and lack of emission data during accidents. The same type of discussion exists for electric power production in nuclear power plants.
In the case of the evaluation of normal household fires the fire process can be treated as a commonly occurring activity in the society. The frequency of fire occurrences is relatively high (i.e. high enough for statistical treatment) and statistics can be found in both Europe and the USA. This implies that it is possible to calculate the different environmental effects of a fires if emission factors are available. The fundamental function of flame retardants is to prevent a fire from occurring or to slow down the fire development. The introduction of flame retardants into products will thus change the occurrence of fires and the fire behaviour. By evaluating the fire statistic's available with and without the use of flame retardants the environmental effects can be calculated. The benefits of the flame retardant must be weighed against the "price" society has to pay for their production and handling. To evaluate the application of flame retardants in society the Life-Cycle Assessment methodology will be used. In this way a system perspective is applied.
Schematically the Fire-LCA model can be illustrated as in Figure 1. The model is essentially equivalent to a traditional LCA approach with the inclusion of emissions from fires. In this model a functional unit is characterised from the cradle to the grave with an effort made to incorporate the emissions associated with all phases in the units life-cycle. Research using this model has been conducted at SP since 1997.
Figure 1: Schematic representation of the LCA model.
The model has been applied in a number of product specific projects including:
- TV Fire-LCA
- Cables Fire-LCA
- Furniture Fire-LCA
- Fire-LCA Guidelines
Presently the model is being applied in two EU-projects: DEROCA (www.deroca.eu) and PolyGraph (www.polygraphproject.eu).