A Systematic Approach to Estimation of Life Cycle Carbon Inventory, Carbon Footprints and Embodied Carbon (Carbon Vision)

Funded by: EPSRC and the Carbon Trust


June 2005 to December 2008


Centre for Environmental Strategy (CES) at the University of Surrey, Imperial College, Forest Research

PSI researchers:

Background, summary and aims

Background and Aims

This project concentrates on developing a methodology and decision-support tools to understand and evaluate environmental and economic consequences of both the incremental and step changes required for "decarbonisation" of the economy. The project is led by the Centre for Environmental Strategy (CES) at the University of Surrey, in collaboration with PSI, Imperial College, Forest Research and a number of industrial partners.

The overall aim of the project is to develop a methodology for a systematic life-cycle estimation of carbon inventories in different industrial sectors, including "carbon footprints" and "embodied carbon". The specific objectives and the deliverables of the project are:

  • development and validation of a general life cycle methodology and decision-support tools for
  • calculating environmental and economic impacts of life-cycle carbon inventories;
  • optimising on environmental and economic objectives to identify a range of optimum low-carbon options;
  • development of a standard data acquisition methodology and databases for use in carbon inventory calculations;
  • development of a general modelling framework and a software package for calculating carbon inventories;
  • application of the methodology, models and tools in different industrial sectors to examine different scenarios for carbon management, and estimate the environmental and economic implications of low-carbon materials, products, processes and services.

Project Design

The project will use a whole systems approach to develop a methodology for an integrated environmental and economic analysis of carbon intensity of different industrial systems. As such, it will be carried out in the following three interrelated (and in some instances parallel) phases:

  • Methodology and software development will include consolidation of the existing work, development of an integrated life cycle methodology (covering both environmental and economic aspects) and decision support tools, together with software packages.
  • Methodology testing will focus on application of the methodology on four industrial sectors, which are food, chemicals, building materials and bioenergy.
  • Project synthesis and outputs is the last stage of the project where the final report and related documentation, including a software manual, will be completed.

Importance of Research

The methodology and tools developed in this work will enable identification of materials, products, technologies and services with a potential for significant reductions in carbon emissions. A particular feature of this work is that it will consider not only environmental but also economic consequences of the switch to low-carbon options. Also, the wide-ranging involvement of key stakeholders in the project will assure its relevance to a number of players, from industry to local authorities to policy makers. For example, companies could use the tools developed in the project to identify low-cost, low-carbon options for the future or to plan for future carbon trading schemes. Local authorities could benefit through a better understanding of carbon flows in their area to help them meet local targets for carbon reductions. Policy makers could use the tools to help them examine the consequences of different policy options.