Life Cycle Assessment and Sustainable Development of lighting

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Life Cycle Assessment and Sustainable Development of lighting

As part of the Repro-light project consortium, IREC has been harnessing their expertise in sustainable development to carry out focused research work into the design of luminaries in the Lighting Industry of Europe.

IREC is an energy research institute based in Spain. Their overarching goal is to contribute to sustainable development.  Some areas of their research include, advanced materials for energy (energy conversion and storage), renewable energy systems integration, smart grids, biofuels and bioenergy, energy efficiency and life cycle assessment.  

To explain in more detail what IREC does as part of Repro-Light, the importance of Life Cycle Assessment, and how valuable their work is for the future of sustainable development of lighting, here is a short interview with Deidre Wolff, PhD Candidate. 

What is LCA?

Environmental LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) measures the environmental impact of a product or system over its entire defined life cycle, including raw material extraction, production, manufacture, use, and disposal at the end of its life. The assessment consists of four stages, being: Goal and Scope definition, Life Cycle Inventory (LCI), Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) and Interpretation.

The goal and scope definition sets the scene for the LCA. Here the goal is stated, the functional unit of the product or system is defined, the system boundary is set, and all other methodological considerations are explicitly stated, including the assumptions and limitations of the study. The LCI stage is the data collection stage for all environmental inputs and outputs for each defined life cycle step and the LCIA stage takes the LCI data, aggregates it into midpoint impact categories, applies characterization factors that convert the data into the units of the impact category and takes the sum to give the final result.

There are various midpoint impact categories that can be assessed in an LCA study, including Climate Change, Resource Depletion, Acidification, Eutrophication, and even Human and Aquatic Toxicity.  The interpretation stage is used to check the data and results in the LCI and LCIA stages to ensure that the goal and scope of the study have been met, as well as to make final conclusions and recommendations from the study.

A more detailed introduction to LCA is presented in our Environmental Assessment Report.

What work are you delivering as part of Repro-light?

Repro-light is a project that aims to rethink the design of LED luminaires by considering circular economy principles of elongating the useful life and designing out waste.  Thus, LCA is being used in the Repro-light project to quantify and compare the life cycle environmental impact of LED luminaire designs. 

How does LCA influence the design process?

LCA can be used to identify the areas of the life cycle that are contributing the most to the overall impact of the luminaire. These ´hot spots´, as they are generally referred to, can then be used to inform design scenarios that aim to reduce the identified ´hot spot’.

A comparative LCA can assess the differences in each design for all life cycle stages and make conclusions on the best alternatives considered feasible. For example, within the Repro-Light project, the feasibility of using different types of materials for the optics has been considered, a discussion of which can be found in the Materials environmental assessment Section of our Environmental Assessment Report.

A comparative LCA is an important tool to use in comparing multiple design scenarios, as it can highlight the shift of an impact to another life cycle stage, or the reduction of one impact along with the increase of another. 

What have you learned about LCA of lighting products?

Luminaires cannot currently be upgraded or repaired when a failure occurs, resulting in the disposal of the entire luminaire as opposed to the exchange or upgrade of a part. This is significant as large amounts of electronic waste are continuously being generated, which poses both adverse environmental and health impacts.  

The lighting industry has focused on improving the energy efficiency of lighting, which in turn reduces the electricity consumption and environmental impact of the use phase of the luminaire; however, waste is still generated. To reduce this waste, one option is to repair, upgrade or service the luminaires in order to extend their lifetime.  However, which components of the luminaire should be exchangeable and who should be capable of the replacement are other questions that need to be addressed. We held focus groups to get feedback on this, which concluded that the end-user should be able to replace the luminaire housing and electronic control and to change the position of the luminaire; however, changing components that require the luminaire to be opened should be done by the manufacturer or other qualified specialists.

What are the next steps of your research?

So far we have conducted a full LCA study from production to disposal of a benchmark LED luminaire, comparing various materials for certain components. The next step in the research is to conduct a comparative LCA of the Repro-Light LED luminaire design to the benchmark LED luminaire.

The Repro-light LED luminaire aims to include components that are easily removable, customizable and re-usable, as well as to use materials that have a low environmental impact and are recyclable.  It also aims to reduce the energy consumption during the use of the luminaire and to reduce the production of electronic waste by extending the lifetime of the luminaire.

The goal and challenge for the comparative LCA is to capture the benefits of this innovative design.

What are your hopes for the future?

I would like to see more products in the future being designed considering the circular economy principles, as well as for consumers to become more conscious of waste generation, seeking options for reuse, repair and repurpose prior to disposal.  I am also excited to see the development of the Repro-Light LED luminaire and hope it leads the way to further changes in the European lighting industry in terms of manufacturing luminaires that can be repaired, reused and upgraded.

From the perspective of our industrial partner Trilux, lighting manufacturers will find new fields for new business models with circularity and sustainability being one of the major points on Europe’s agenda. Value creation won’t end at the point of sales – it will also cover the operation, maintenance, repair, and re-use of luminaires and components.

Trilux recognizes that we have to break the current notion that value creation is done by producing new products out of fresh raw materials. With Repro-light, they hope to be well prepared for this aspect of the future.

What are the next steps for IREC and Repro-light?

We are building a full LCA model for the new design that is being developed by the consortium.  We will then prepare a report comparing the environmental impact of the new Repro-light design with the benchmark design.

The comparison will need to consider the function of the innovative lighting, which has more features than the benchmark (including the possibility to be dimmed during daylight hours). It will further consider the extended lifetime of the innovative lighting due to the ability to exchange parts of the luminaire as opposed to throwing away the entire luminaire, and the energy savings during production due to the use of more efficient production lines.   To ensure a valid comparison, the methodological choices defined in the Goal and Scope Definition will be kept the same, such as the functional unit and system boundary, and scenarios for the use of either the innovative or benchmark lighting will be defined and compared. 

This report will be complete by the end of September 2019.