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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, hanes.40@osu.edu

Bhavik R. Bakshi The Ohio State University, bakshi.2@osu.edu

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.

ISSSTNetwork@gmail.com.

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

assessment

If applicable, page number will go here after aggregating all papers

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).

(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)

(2)

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)

(3)

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.

If applicable, page number will go here after aggregating all papers

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.

(4)

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

assessment

If applicable, page number will go here after aggregating all papers

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

and

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 ,

and

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,

and

.

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.

( )

(7)

[

] [

] [

]

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.

If applicable, page number will go here after aggregating all papers

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

2

emissions and life cycle (production system plus

economy) CO

2

emissions.

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

2

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

2

represent

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

assessment

If applicable, page number will go here after aggregating all papers

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

2

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.

LP NLP

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.

If applicable, page number will go here after aggregating all papers

References

Azapagic, A. and Clift, R. 1998. Linear programming as a tool in life cycle assessment. The

International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 3: 305-316.

Duchin, F. and Lange, G.-M. 1995. The choice of technology and associated changes in prices

in the US economy. Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, 6: 335-357.

Guine, J., Gorre, M., Heijungs, R., Huppes, G., Kleijn, R., de Koning, A., van Oers, L.,

Sleeswijk, A. W., Suh, S., de Haes, H. U., de Buijn, H., van Duin, R. & Huijbregts, M.. 2002.

Life cycle assessment: An operational guide to the ISO standards., Kluwer Academic

Publishers.

Heijungs, R. 1994. A generic method for the identification of options for cleaner products.

Ecological Economics, 10: 69-81.

Heijungs, R. and Kleijn, R. 2001. Numerical approaches towards life cycle interpretation. The

International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 6: 141-148.

Heijungs, R. and Suh, S. 2002. The Computational Structure of Life Cycle Assessment, Kluwer

Academic Publishers.

Suh, S. 2004. Functions, commodities and environmental impacts in an ecological-economic

model. Ecological Economics, 48: 451-467.

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