Should we neglect cement carbonation in life cycle inventory databases?

Abstract

Purpose

This study assesses the effect of including CO2 uptake by cement-containing materials (CCM) in background life cycle inventories, on comparative life cycle assessments.

Methods

The carbonation of CCM consumed by transforming activities in the ecoinvent database is estimated. The uncertainties around parameters that affect cement carbonation (e.g., geometry and environment types) are approximated by error propagation. Five pairwise comparisons of functionally equivalent product systems are conducted in two parallel Monte Carlo simulations to isolate the effect of cement carbonation using pre-sampled values.

Results and discussion

Based on the five comparative assessments, there is a maximum probability of 3.7% that including cement carbonation in background inventories of ecoinvent can affect end results to the extent of changing conclusions. While a probability of 3.7% is admittedly low, this finding is exclusively based on ecoinvent inventories. Therefore, should the inventories rely on background activities that consume CCM to a larger extent, or from another database, this probability may be higher.

Conclusions

It is difficult to state whether including cement carbonation in background inventories is likely to significantly change the outcome of a comparative study. It seems though that neglecting cement carbonation in background inventories currently creates, at best, a mild bias in favor of CCM-poor product systems. Given the clear and easy-to-implement method presented in this study, the authors recommend including cement carbonation in the future development of life cycle inventory databases.

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Funding

The authors wish to thank Cementir Holding and Jesper Sand Damtoft, Director of the R&D, Quality and Technical Sales Support branch, for financing this study. This study is also financed by the Paul Scherrer Institute.

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Correspondence to Romain Sacchi.

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Conflict of interest

Romain Sacchi, the first author of this study, was employed by Aalborg Portland A/S when this study was initiated. Aalborg Portland A/S produces Portland cement, the binding ingredient in concrete, subject to the carbonation process described in the study. While the cement industry has a clear interest in including carbonation in life cycle assessment studies of cement-containing products, the calculations performed in this study have a rigorous scientific basis and all critical assumptions are clearly stated. Christian Bauer, from the Technology Assessment group located at the Paul Scherrer Institute, has provided continuous support and review to the manuscript.

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Sacchi, R., Bauer, C. Should we neglect cement carbonation in life cycle inventory databases?. Int J Life Cycle Assess (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-020-01776-y

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Keywords

  • Cement
  • Concrete
  • Carbonation
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Inventories
  • Database
  • Pre-sample
  • Monte Carlo