Influence of spatial differentiation in impact assessment for LCA-based decision support: implementation of biochar technology in Indonesia
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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- NGI articles 
Original versionJournal of Cleaner Production. 2018, 200 259-268. https://doi.org/10.1016/jclpro.2018.07.256
Spatial differentiation in evaluation of environmental impacts in life cycle assessment (LCA) may give more accurate and realistic results, especially in cases where impacts occur at a local or regional scale and where sensitivity of receiving ecosystems differs from generic conditions. However, from a decision maker's perspective it is of interest to investigate whether the use of spatially differentiated impact assessment methods in addition leads to better decisions. Biochar production and agricultural utilization in Indonesia is an example of a micro-level decision-support case where spatial differentiation could be relevant. To study the influence of spatial differentiation on implementation of biochar as a waste management strategy and the choice of best performing biochar production techniques, agricultural utilization systems and geographic locations, comparisons were made between four communities living on different Indonesian islands, three biochar production techniques and two types of fertilizer. Results showed that the differences in impact scores between generic and spatially differentiated impact scores were an order of magnitude different for some of the considered impact categories. These differences influenced the identification of which system performed best when considering total damage to human health, which was mainly due to differences in accounting for impacts arising from water use. By contrast, trade-offs between impact categories combined with relatively small contribution of some spatially differentiated impacts rendered spatial differentiation less relevant with regard to total damage to ecosystems. Total impact scores were influenced to a greater extent by variations in inventories determining environmental burden and benefits, than by differences between generic and spatially differentiated characterization factors. Hence, irrespective of the scenario and type of damage considered, both generic and spatially differentiated assessments showed that implementing biochar technology in Indonesia is expected to bring environmental benefits. It was shown that spatial differentiation in impact assessment did not necessary lead to better decisions in this case study. This may suggest that depending on the goal of the LCA, practitioners should consider potential benefits of implementing spatially differentiated life cycle impact assessment methods as opposed to potential benefits from collecting site-specific inventories.