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Proceedings of the International Symposium on

Sustainable Systems and Technologies, v2 (2014)

A non-linear programming approach to life cycle inventory calculation
and improvement assessment

Rebecca J. Hanes The Ohio State University,
Bhavik R. Bakshi The Ohio State University,

Abstract. The final stage of a life cycle assessment study is improvement assessment, which
involves identifying changes that can be made within the production system to improve its
environmental performance. Life cycle assessment relies on a linear, steady-state production
system model that does not contain information on the process technologies used in the
system. Due to this lack of information, improvement assessment can lead to recommendations
that are infeasible, impossible or simply wrong. We propose a non-linear hybrid inventory
model that allows detailed process technology models to be embedded within the production
system model. The proposed inventory explicitly captures the dependence of the production
system and its life cycle on technological variables that exist within individual processes.

A non-linear program (NLP) is used to perform improvement assessment on the non-linear
inventory model. By changing the objective function in the NLP, production system
configurations that minimize emissions, resource consumption or other criteria are located. Any
differences between these optimal configurations and the actual configuration represent
potential improvements.

The proposed NLP approach to improvement assessment is compared to the conventional
linear approach using a toy production system. The NLP approach located an environmentally
superior production system configuration under all objective functions considered.

Proceedings of the International Symposium on Sustainable Systems and Technologies (ISSN 2329-9169) is
published annually by the Sustainable Conoscente Network. Melissa Bilec and Jun-Ki Choi, co-editors.

Copyright 2014 by Rebecca J. Hanes, Bhavik R. Bakshi Licensed under CC-BY 3.0.
Cite as:
A non-linear programming approach to life cycle inventory calculation and improvement assessment Proc. ISSST,
Rebecca J. Hanes, Bhavik R. Bakshi. Doi information v2 (2014)
A non-linear programming approach to life cycle inventory calculation and improvement
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Introduction. In life cycle assessment, linear models are used to analyze production systems
at steady state. (Guine et. al, 2002) The matrix form of inventory analysis represents each
process with a vector of inputs and outputs. Taken together, the process vectors form the
technology matrix that represents the exchange of distinct products among the processes
in a production system. The other components of the inventory are the environmental
interventions matrix and the functional unit vector . (Heijungs, 1994) Due to the
assumption of a steady-state system, the elements of , and are fixed.

Because the production system is represented with a linear model, each process is scaled
linearly. Under this assumption, the technology matrix and functional unit vector define a
system of linear balance equations on the products involved in the production system, as
shown in Eq. (1).


The scaling vector represents the scale at which each process must operate such that
the net output of the production system is exactly . The inventory vector is then calculated by
scaling the interventions matrix by , as follows. (Heijungs and Suh, 2002)


If each process in the system produces a single unique product, then is a square nonsingular
matrix and is inverted to obtain . More commonly, is rectangular due to processes that
provide multiple products or functions and cannot be inverted. In this case, one way to obtain
is by finding the optimal solution to the following linear program (LP). (Azapagic and Clift, 1998;
Heijungs and Suh, 2002)


Eq. (3) is interpreted as finding the linear combination of processes that will supply at least the
functional unit while minimizing total production or, equivalently, the total cost of production.

The optimization approach to inventory calculation is also useful for the improvement
assessment stage of a LCA. One objective of improvement assessment is to identify and
recommend changes to the production system that will improve its overall environmental
performance. (Heijungs and Kleijn, 2001) Improvement assessment is by necessity somewhat
qualitative. The linearity assumptions necessary to calculate the inventory via matrix inverse or
LP restrict the amount of process information that can be included in the inventory model. In
particular, and are derived from empirical data and do not contain any details on the various
process technologies. Although one of the objectives of improvement assessment is to
recommend changes to the system, there is no way to determine if these changes are feasible
or even possible. In addition, there is no way to quantify the effect that recommended changes
will have on the production system. It is entirely possible that changes made in one process will
affect the other processes in the system in such a way that the systems environmental
Hanes et al.
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performance worsens.

To address these shortcomings, we propose replacing the inventory calculation LP of Eq. (3)
with a non-linear program (NLP) to allow for detailed, non-linear process technology models
within the inventory. Under this approach, the technology and intervention matrices are written
as functions of variables within the technology models rather than being derived from empirical
data. The inventory is calculated by finding the set of decision variables process scaling
factors and technological variables that minimizes the cost of producing . Improvement
assessment is similarly accomplished by finding the set of decision variables that minimizes
waste or emissions produced, resources consumed, or other criteria. The result of such
analyses will be slightly different configurations of the production system, including changes to
both the scaling vector and the technological variables.

Unlike improvement assessment with the LP, improvement assessment via NLP identifies
feasible changes at the system and process scales that result in improved environmental
performance of the system as a whole. However, there is a risk that these changes will shift
environmental burdens outside the system boundary, resulting in apparently improved
production systems that in reality generate increased impacts. To prevent this, we use the
integrated hybrid life cycle inventory (IHLCI) proposed by Suh (2004) as the basis for our non-
linear inventory model. The IHLCI combines a technology matrix representing the production
system with an input-output model of the economic system within which the production system
operates. When the IHLCI is extended to include detailed process technology models, the
resulting inventory model captures the effects of changes made within processes on the entire
life cycle and accounts for any impacts that are shifted outside the production system boundary.

Objectives. The objectives of this work are as follows. (1) Develop a non-linear inventory
model by integrating a hybrid inventory with detailed process technology models. (2)
Demonstrate the use of the non-linear inventory model for both inventory calculation and
improvement assessment. (3) Compare the non-linear inventory model with a conventional
linear inventory model by performing an improvement assessment on a toy production system.

Investigative Method. In Eq. (1), processes were represented with fixed vectors of inputs and
outputs. By writing the inputs and outputs as functions of technological variables, , non-linear
technology models can be represented in the same fashion. The process models become
vectors of functions, which together make up the non-linear technology matrix . In many
cases, representing complete process technology models in is cumbersome due to the
number of equations required. Technology models that cannot easily be incorporated into
are specified externally as a set of equations that forms constraints on . Given and
, the non-linear analogue to the system of balance equations in Eq. (1) is as follows.


The non-linear technology matrix is used as the production system model within the IHLCI.
(Suh, 2004) In addition to , the IHLCI consists of (1) an economic input-output (EIO) direct
A non-linear programming approach to life cycle inventory calculation and improvement
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requirements matrix , (2) an EIO interventions matrix , (3) a matrix

of upstream cutoffs,
flows from the economy to the production system, and (4) a matrix

of downstream cutoffs,
flows from the production system to the economy. Both


involve process
technology models.

To avoid double-counting flows that exist at the production system level, the EIO direct
requirements and environmental interventions matrices and are disaggregated into the
individual processes modeled in and the rest of the economy. Through the disaggregation
calculation, the technological variables in ,


are propagated into the EIO

model. As a result, material and energy flows at both the production system and economy
scales are dependent on The disaggregated EIO matrices are denoted, respectively,



The integrated hybrid technology matrix and the integrated hybrid intervention matrix ,
which are analogous to and in Eqs. (1) and (2), are shown in Eqs. (5) and (6).


] (5)


] (6)

The NLP formulation of the non-linear hybrid inventory model is as follows.

( )

] [

] [


In Eq. (7), is the process scaling vector, is the economy scaling vector, and is the set of
technological variables. may contain both linear and non-linear elements to allow for
economies of scale and is distinct from in Eqs. (1) and (3). The functional unit for the hybrid
system is the same as the functional unit for the production system, thus the hybrid functional
unit vector is a concatenation of and a vector of zeroes that represents final demand from the
economic system. is the identity matrix a square matrix with ones on the diagonal and
zeroes elsewhere of the same dimensions as


The objective function ( ) can have several different forms depending on whether
the NLP is being applied to inventory calculation or to improvement assessment. To calculate
the inventory, the objective function is the cost of producing the functional unit. In this case, the
environmental interventions are not involved and the objective function reduces to ( ). For
improvement assessment, ( ) may be a specific type of pollutant, consumption of a
resource or a particular environmental impact.
Hanes et al.
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As a demonstration of the proposed inventory model, consider the production system
superstructure shown in Figure 1. The superstructure contains two processes each for
electricity generation, steel production and expanded plastic production; these six processes all
supply the primary process that produces widgets. The technology matrix for this system is
therefore rectangular. Depending on the objective function of Eq. (7), different combinations of
processes will be active in the production system. (Duchin and Levine, 2011; Duchin and
Levine, 2012)

All processes except for Expanded and Thermoformed Plastic Production (ETPP) are based on
empirical data. ETPP has two technological variables and is modeled non-linearly. ETPP also
produces thermoformed plastic as a by-product. The objective is to choose the technology mix
to supply the widget production process and, if ETPP is part of the mix, to optimize the
technological variables in the ETPP process. Three objective functions will be considered: the
cost of production, production system CO
emissions and life cycle (production system plus
economy) CO

Figure 1: Widget production system superstructure. Processes for electricity generation, steel production and
plastic production must be selected from the available technologies. Pink processes and the widget production
process are modeled empirically; the ETPP process shown in red has a simple non-linear model.

Improvement assessment was performed using both the linear and non-linear inventory models.
Both models use the IHLCI, but only the non-linear inventory includes the detailed technology
models for ETPP.

ETPP depends on two technological variables, and . is the fraction of process output that
consists of expanded plastic, and is the amount of crude oil consumed by the process.
Before constructing the linear inventory model, ETPP alone was optimized for minimum
production cost. The resulting values of and were used in the linear inventory model.

Results. Figure 2 gives CO
emissions generated by the production system and its life cycle
under two different objective functions. The minimum cost results correspond to the inventory
calculation; the results for minimum life cycle (production system plus economy) CO
A non-linear programming approach to life cycle inventory calculation and improvement
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one option for improvement assessment. For both inventory calculation and improvement
assessment, the NLP approach found a better environmental optimum than the LP approach.

Figure 2: CO2 emissions for different production system configurations. For both inventory calculation (Cost)
and improvement assessment (Life cycle CO2), the NLP approach leads to a process system configuration with lower
emissions compared to the LP approach.

Production system configurations for minimum life cycle CO
are given in Table 1. The linear
and non-linear approaches resulted in the same electricity and steel processes recall that the
electricity and steel processes were all modeled linearly. However, the two approaches resulted
in different choices of plastic production processes. The NLP approach chose the non-linear
process, ETPP, with different technological variables and than were found by considering
ETPP as a disconnected process.

Table 1. Production system configurations for minimum life cycle CO2 emissions.

Electricity Natural gas Natural gas
Steel Recycled Recycled
Plastic Expanded Plastic Exp. & Thm. Plastic
X 0.23 0.99
C 2 5

Conclusion. The NLP approach to inventory calculation and improvement assessment allows
detailed process technology models to be incorporated into the inventory model. These models
enable the LCA practitioner to identify potential changes to the process technologies and to the
production system that will improve the systems environmental performance. As demonstrated
by the widget production system, the NLP approach results in production systems with lower
emissions than the LP approach for both inventory calculation and improvement assessment.

Acknowledgements. Partial funding for this work was provided by NSF Grant No.
CBET0829026 and USDA 2012-38202-19288.

Hanes et al.
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