UP Green LCA

Life cycle assessment of greenhouse gas removal

Cranfield University is researching consequential life cycle assessment (LCA) of greenhouse gas removal technologies, as part of an £8.6 million, NERC-funded research programme.

The LCA project, titled Harmonising and upgrading greenhouse gas removal consequential life cycle assessment (UP-Green-LCA), is being led by Dr Pietro Goglio of the Cranfield Institute for Resilient Futures. This project will develop methods for comparing all the implications (indirect costs and benefits) of using different greenhouse gas removal (GGR) techniques, using the approach of consequential life cycle assessment. 

The LCA project will be combined with scenario database analysis, network data analysis, biophysical modelling, stakeholder engagement and expert consultation. The consequential LCA of GGR technologies related to soil allows a comprehensive and holistic assessment of the environmental benefits. The project will also focus on soil carbon sequestration through improved land management, and the addition of biochar to soils to increase soil carbon storage.

"The science basis behind the Paris climate agreement shows clearly that without further exploitation of GGR technologies, the targets set might not be met. The UP-Green-LCA is focused on harmonising and upgrading Life Cycle Assessment methodologies for greenhouse gas technologies across different economic sectors. This will be carried out by improving current methods of assessment which integrate environmental assessment with economic models. In these projects, economic models will integrate social and political drivers which might affect the introduction of greenhouse gas removals and will be made less reliant on assumptions". 

Dr Goglio Pietro

To achieve the UK targets for cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a steady reduction of 3% should be achieved and maintained every year by the whole UK economy. This is the requirement for UK in order to achieve the potential target of 1.5 degrees C of global warming. Different techniques (e.g. land management and use change, ocean fertilisation, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, biochar, direct air capture) have been proposed to remove GHG; but their implementation can have large and unforeseen effects considering all the impacts across the economy. Some techniques such as afforestation, bioenergy, carbon capture and storage could potentially have large land use change and affect the food chains.

Methodological approaches, such life cycle assessment (LCA), have been widely adopted to assess different greenhouse gas removal techniques (GGRTs). LCA allows to account for all the impacts from raw material extraction, production, transport, use and waste disposal of a production systems, product or service. In particular consequential LCA approaches have been used to assess the consequences of the various applications of greenhouse gas removal techniques. However consequential LCA is largely based on assumptions and large uncertainties are bound to this approach. Further there is no consensus on the LCA methodology to assess GGRTs, let alone the results, and a fair comparison of the efficacy and cost of the different GHGTs is required to have an accurate assessment of the benefits of GGRTs.

This research proposal is an attempt in reducing the lack of consistency and increase accuracy and robustness of the impacts of alternative GGRTs. The main aim of this project is to harmonise the various LCA approaches to assess GGRTs, including biochar application, biomass carbon storage, land management change, ocean fertilisation and direct air capture. The project also aims to systematically test and assess the uncertainties related to the application of the consequential LCA to GGRTs to improve consequential LCA approaches for greenhouse gas removal. The new approaches are compared with other consortia and research projects targeted to greenhouse gas removal techniques and will be used in a consequential LCA of specific case studies for each greenhouse gas removal group.

The methodology adopted consists in a systematic review across economic sectors and focuses on the specific methods of analysing consequential impacts and uncertainties in the analyses (e.g. assumptions about economic responses). Selected case studies will be used to test the current approaches to identify and rank the importance of the various sources of uncertainties (and other strengths and weaknesses) related to consequential LCA. This will be combined with a series of workshops with other researchers and key advisers involved in assessing GGRTs to harmonise the developed approaches. The advisors will form an advisory panel and will represent areas of the economy, policy and third sector organisations that would be affected by large scale implementation of GGRTs. This will feed into an upgrading process of current consequential LCA methods with the aim of making the assessment of GGRTs more robust and more accurate to achieve a real and substantial reduction of global warming (at least 1-10 Gt of CO2eq per year worldwide).

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The wider project

NERC Press Release

Cranfield’s LCA project is part of a larger £8.6 million, NERC-funded research programme on Greenhouse Gas Removal.

The overall national research programme will evaluate the potential and wider implications of a variety of greenhouse gas removal options. Researchers will investigate the potential for increasing carbon storage in agricultural soil and forests, and new ways to remove methane gas from the air on a local scale. Other researchers will look into using waste materials from mining as a greenhouse gas removal technique, and explore how bioenergy crops could be used in power stations in combination with carbon capture and storage methods.

The University of Aberdeen is leading a team of academics from Cranfield University, the University of Edinburgh, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), University of Newcastle, the James Hutton Institute and the international Climate Change and Food Security (CCAFS) initiative. Interim results will be published by the end of 2017 to feed into the IPCC Special Reports on the “1.5 degree C target”, and “land use and climate change”.

Core activities

Our production and consumption systems interact with the environment in complex ways. In this research group, we carry out and develop methodology to quantify diverse environmental impacts all along the chain of economic systems from raw material extraction to waste treatment, disposal and recycling. A major holistic tool of ours is environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). The carbon footprint is also a major output of LCA, but we address other environmental impacts in LCA.

We also specialise in modelling production and processing systems and using these to quantify environmental impacts, interactions and unintentional consequences. This is most powerful when coupled with systems models, which we have developed for major commodity production in the UK. Our core background is the agriculture, food chain, but we also work with energy, bioenergy and waste management systems.

We have applied our models to quantify the benefits of improving animal health on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the impacts of genetic improvements in livestock in reducing environmental impacts. We also used a systems-LCA model approach to quantify GHG and other impacts from the entire UK food system and to explore the effects of alternative food consumption patterns. We also developed a tool to carry out LCA of cropping systems (Crop.LCA).

Key research areas

  • Life Cycle Assessment
  • Systems modelling
  • Greenhouse gas removal
  • Agriculture and food
  • Energy systems
  • Waste Management
  • Operational research
  • Animal health and environmental impacts
  • Impacts of dietary change

Our most recent foray into LCA is in the emerging technologies of GHG removal from the atmosphere to combat climate change and developing new objective methods to assess them.

We apply the techniques of Operational Research to a variety of systems, especially applying Linear Programs (LP). Our best example is the Silsoe Whole Farm Model (SFARMOD), which has been used in several major projects to forecast land use changes and production choices. We applied these approaches and data analysis to understand better agricultural activity data and to use these in enhancing the UK agricultural GHG and ammonia inventory to reflect changes in activity data.

Current and recent past research projects

  • UP-Green-LCA
  • Soils-R-GGREAT
  • GHG and ammonia inventory
  • Cattle and bTB in Wales
  • DataVet

For more information, read the

NERC press release

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First LCA methodology workshop

for greenhouse gas removal technologies (GGRT)

A series of LCA scientists participated for the first time to a workshop on LCA methodology for greenhouse gas removal (GGR) technologies held in the Cranfield campus of Cranfield University on 26 April 2018. The aims of the workshop were to harmonise consequential approaches of LCA for GGR and build consensus on the LCA methodology to adopt. Several methodological issues were discussed such as system boundary, consequential methods and LCA for future technologies. The scientific workshop chaired by Dr Pietro Goglio and involved scientists from Cranfield University (Dr Pietro Goglio, Dr Adrian Williams, Dr Michele Seghetta), University of Edinburgh (Dr Matthew Brander), University of Oxford (Prof. Richard Darton), University College London (Dr Isabela Butnar), the University of Sheffield (Prof. Lenny Koh) and University of La Tuscia (Giampiero Grossi). The workshop has been financed by the Greenhouse Gas Removal programme, cofounded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC), Economic and Social Science Research Council (ESRC), Science and Technology facilities council and the Department for Business and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Greenhouse gas removal

research programme launched

Last week (20.04.17), a nationally funded £8.6 million investment for greenhouse gas removal research programme was announced. Four interdisciplinary, multi-institute consortium and seven topic-specific projects have been awarded funding, with a Cranfield University’s project amongst them. Around 100 researchers from 40 UK universities and partner organisations will be involved, and seven research studentships providing PhD training will also be supported.

£8.6 million UK research programme

on greenhouse gas removal

The UK is committed to the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep global temperature rise well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1·5°C above pre-industrial levels. Alongside significant emission reductions, large-scale removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere could considerably increase the likelihood of achieving this goal. Researchers know there are ways to approach this challenge but they have yet to be demonstrated on scales that are climatically-significant. Major questions remain around their feasibility, as well as impacts on society and public attitudes.

Counteracting Global Warming

Investigating ways to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere

The UK is committed to the 2015 Paris Agreement to keep the global temperature rise well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Alongside significant emission reductions, large-scale removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere could considerably increase the likelihood of achieving this goal.

Workshop on socio-economic aspects of GGRT programme

A workshop across the greenhouse gas removal technologies (GGRT) programme was held in the Cranfield campus of Cranfield University on 20 September 2018. The workshop was attended by a total of 19 people, including at least one social scientist from each project, NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) programme coordinator, a Business and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) representative and life cycle analysis (LCA) experts some of whom joined via Skype. The main goal of the workshop was to identify and address the research challenges related to socio-economic aspects of implementation of GGRTs and to compare the methods and assumptions used across the GGRTs programme.


Pietro Goglio

Lecturer in Life Cycle Assesment and Systems Modelling
Cranfield Institute for Resilient Futures

Dr Pietro Goglio is Lecturer in LCA and systems modelling. He carried out his University studies in Agricultural Sciences and a PhD in AgroBiosciences and Environmental sciences. His past research focused mainly in LCA, greenhouse gas estimation and monitoring, agroecosystem modelling. He has also carried out research in the field of bioenergy, with lignocellulosic bioenergy and transformation systems.

Neil Harris

Professor of Atmospheric Informatics and
Head of Centre
Atmospheric Informatics and Emissions Technology

A wealth of measurements exists that has been collected in global monitoring networks, during focussed field campaigns and by satellite instruments. Great opportunities exist to exploit these data to understand a range of atmospheric problems. In addition to using commercial instruments, I have developed and constructed instruments capable of running autonomously in order to make observations for months and years at a time. 

Adrian Williams

Reader in Environmental Systems
Cranfield Institute for Resilient Futures

Adrian started his career at the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering at Silsoe, Bedfordshire (later becoming Silsoe Research Institute). This started with research into odour control from animal manures (following his PhD at the University of Glasgow) and then progressed into a wide range of experimentally-based agri-environmental research including: biological treatment systems..

Jim Harris

Professor of Environmental Technology
Cranfield Institute for Resilient Futures

Jim's first degree was in Applied Biology at North East London Polytechnic, specialising in plant biochemistry. This was followed by his doctoral work in the microbiology of stored topsoil on opencast mine sites.

There has been a clear emphasis on the development and application of soil microbial measurement methodology. 

Nazmiye Ozkan 

Senior Lecturer in Environmental/Energy Economics
Cranfield Institute for Resilient Futures

After completing a BSc (Hons) in Urban and Regional Planning (Istanbul Technical University, Turkey) and a MSc in Regional Planning (Istanbul Technical University, Turkey), Dr Ozkan undertook her PhD research in Regional Planning with specialisation on Environmental Economics (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), U.S.A.).

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