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Life cycle assessment of the environmental influence of wooden and concrete utility poles based on service lifetime

de Simone Souza, Hugo Henrique, Lima, Ângela Maria Ferreira, Esquerre, Karla Oliveira, Kiperstok, Asher
The international journal of life cycle assessment 2017 v.22 no.12 pp. 2030-2041
Monte Carlo method, chromated copper arsenate, concrete, electricity, environmental assessment, environmental impact, environmental performance, life cycle assessment, raw materials, uncertainty, utility poles, wood poles, wood preservatives
PURPOSE: Many applications of life cycle assessment do not consider the variability of the service lifetime of different structures, and this may be a relevant factor in an environmental impact assessment. This paper aims to determine the influence of the service lifetime on the potential environmental impacts of wooden and concrete poles in the electricity distribution system. METHODS: The estimation of service lifetime was conducted using the factorial method. The life cycle assessment was applied using SimaPro software and considered the entire life cycle of utility poles, from the extraction of raw materials to the final disposal. Then, an evaluation of the environmental impacts using the CML IA baseline method was performed. The study included the analysis of uncertainty using the Monte Carlo method. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: In general, the wooden poles had a lower potential environmental impact compared to the concrete poles. The result of the sensitivity analysis considering the variability of the chromated copper arsenate wood preservative retention rate suggests that the frequency of maintenance affects the service lifetime. Often, the comparison of products in the LCA perspective is carried out by considering similar useful lifetime services for the different alternatives, and this study shows that the environmental performance of products or services is directly proportional to the lifetime. It is a crucial parameter that has to be clarified in order to reduce uncertainty in the results. CONCLUSIONS: Thus, some factors such as material quality, design adjustments and routine maintenance extend the service lifetime of a product or process and are shown to be effective ways to reduce environmental impacts. Therefore, the service lifetime has a significant influence on the development of the life cycle assessment. Comparative LCA studies are often sensitive to parameters that may even change the ranking of selected impact categories. All in all, from the sensitivity analysis highlighted in this study, the variability of lifetime service has proven to be one of the most prominent factors influencing comparative LCA results.