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Environ Sci Technol. 2007 Oct 15;41(20):7145-51.

Studying the effect on system preference by varying coproduct allocation in creating life-cycle inventory.

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US Environmental Protection Agency, Cincinnati, Ohio 45268, USA.


How one models the input and output data for a life-cycle assessment (LCA) can greatly affect the results. Although much attention has been paid to allocation methodology by researchers in the field, specific guidance is still lacking: Earlier research focused on the effects of applying various allocation schemes to industrial processes when creating life-cycle inventories. To determine the impact of different allocation approaches upon product choice, this study evaluated the gas- and water-phase emissions during the production, distribution, and use of three hypothetical fuel systems (data that represent conventional gasoline and gasoline with 8.7 and 85% ethanol were used as the basis for modeling). This paper presents an explanation of the allocation issue and the results from testing various allocation schemes (weight, volume, market value, energy, and demand-based) when viewed across the entire system. Impact indicators for global warming, ozone depletion, and human health noncancer (water impact) were lower for the ethanol-containing fuels, while impact indicators for acidification, ecotoxicity, eutrophication, human health criteria, and photochemical smog were lower for conventional gasoline (impacts for the water-related human health cancer category showed mixed results). The relative ranking of conventional gasoline in relation to the ethanol-containing fuels was consistent in all instances, suggesting that, in this case study, the choice of allocation methodology had no impact on indicating which fuel has lower environmental impacts.

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