Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
ifeu has been carrying out LCA modelling for a wide range of application fields since the late 1980s. Since then, LCA has been established as one of the key instruments for environmental assessments, both at ifeu and across the entire field of environmental research. The LCA approach allows modelling of complex material flows and illustrates all environmental impacts potentially associated with each material flow. Thus, it is possible to assess the environmental relevance of each study subject across its entire life cycle in a quantitative way. LCA is suitable for a diverse range of study subjects, i.e. modelling of products, processes, services and consumer behaviours is possible.
In addition to its considerable LCA modelling expertise, ifeu is also continuously involved with the critical review of LCA studies, active method development and advancement of fundamental LCA principles. For instance, both the methodology guidelines for the ISO process (ISO 14040/ISO 14044) and the general LCA methodology of the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA) were developed with ifeu guidance.
A key area of application for LCA at ifeu is the LCA modelling of packaging, which commenced with an UBA study in 1991 and continues to influence public opinion and shape environmental policy. Moreover, LCAs were carried out for the evaluation of bioenergy carriers early on. The LCA method was further adapted for assessment of waste management options, which represent systems similar to product systems. LCA continues to be the method of choice for all these different applications.
Material flow analyses
A material flow analysis may be a component (inventory) of an LCA study, or it can stand alone as a procedure to illustrate the balance of material and energy flows of products, processes, services and areas of demand. In contrast to the LCA method, there is no norm or standard regulating the material flow analysis process. Thus, it does not represent a method with universal applicability across all areas of application. The approach depends on the individual research question, desired level of insight and the study system. Material and energy flows of individual processes or entire product systems are often illustrated with flow diagrams, e.g. Sankey diagrams.