Comparative LCA analysis of different types of flooring materials
Date:June 21, 2016
by A.M. Ferrari, M. Pini, P. Neri – University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Department of Engineering Science and Methods
As a result of rapid changes in global competition in the building materials market in recent years, Italian companies are now having to tackle the complex issue of their development prospects and reflect on their strengths and weaknesses and the key resources that are needed to become more competitive. An analysis of the trends in industrial production systems shows that environmental sustainability is a driver of new growth potential. However, the complexity and heterogeneity of the manufacturing sector makes it difficult to evaluate the environmental quality of products and processes and thus make effective life cycle assessments.
Nonetheless, the growing awareness of the economic value of environmental capital has led to the development of tools for quantitative and qualitative analysis of environmental impact, and these are being widely adopted to guide design and development choices in the direction of sustainability.
The LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) method in particular has become well established over the years as an effective tool for evaluating the environmental performance of industrial products and processes. The holistic approach embraced by this method means that it can correctly quantify the actual environmental impact associated with the production of a given product and evaluate the repercussions upstream and downstream in the supply chain.
Throughout their life cycle, construction materials have an impact on the environment in which they are located. The effects depend not only on the nature of the materials but also on how appropriately they are used. The challenge is to be able to maintain the functionality of a product while minimising its environmental impact over its entire life cycle and maximising its competitiveness.
The aim of this study was to compare the sustainability of different types of flooring materials over their life cycle and to determine their environmental performance through a comparative LCA analysis in order to choose solutions with a lower environmental impact. The following types of materials were chosen: marble, porcelain, resin, linoleum, carpet and parquet.
The analysis was conducted using the SimaPro 7.3.3 program developed by Prè (Product Ecology Consultants, NL) and evaluating environmental impact with the IMPACT 2002+ method (Jolliet et al 2003). The comparative analysis of the environmental impact of the various types of surface covering material was performed considering 1 m2 of floor surface and a lifespan of 50 years in accordance with the Italian ministerial decree which defines the nominal lifetime of ordinary works as ≥ 50 years . The boundaries of the systems to be studied were established in accordance with a “cradle to grave” approach that encompasses production, installation, cleaning, maintenance and decommissioning. Within these boundaries, the facilities and machinery used for raw materials extraction, transport and the production process were considered. The use of machinery and infrastructures and hence the consumption of raw materials and energy and emissions of pollutants associated with their production, maintenance and decommissioning were included in the study. The inventory analysis was conducted using exclusively secondary data obtained from the EcoInvent database (Life Cycle Inventories, 2009) included in the software package and data from the literature.
From an analysis of the results shown in Figure 1 it can be observed that the process with the lowest impact is the porcelain floor tile, which has an impact of 0.01042 Pt, whereas the linoleum floor has a higher environmental impact of 0.092207 Pt.
Table 2 shows the results of the comparison between the different flooring materials divided into different impact categories and in order of increasing environment impact.
- In the Human Health category, porcelain tile has the lowest impact and resin the highest due to the emission of particulate (<2.5mm) during the sanding stage.
- In the Ecosystem Quality category, linoleum has the highest impact, largely due to the occupation of non-irrigated arable land by green manure up until March for the cultivation of the soybeans needed to produce soybean oil for floor wax and the emission of zinc into the soil during soybean production. Carpet is the material with the lowest impact.
- The material with the highest environmental impact in the Resources category is linoleum due to the use of natural gas in the manufacture of linoxyn. Resin is the material with the second highest environmental impact, followed by marble, carpet, porcelain and parquet.
- In the Climate Change category, parquet has the smallest environmental footprint (0.002961 Pt) and linoleum the biggest (0.033148 Pt) due to the emission of fossil CO2 to the air during the extraction and production of natural gas used in the production of linoxyn. Resin is the material with the second highest environmental impact, followed by marble, carpet and porcelain. Porcelain has a higher impact than parquet mainly due to the emission of fossil CO2 to the air during extraction and production of the gas used for the firing process.
The study showed that the LCA is an effective tool for guiding and supporting the actions that need to be taken to improve the environmental management of a production process. By identifying the stages in which action can be taken to reduce a product’s environmental impact, it is possible to reduce energy and raw material consumption and the production of waste, thereby also cutting production costs. It should be stressed however that the models used for the inventory analysis are limited by the implicit assumptions that they contain. The accuracy of an LCA study depends on the accessibility or availability of primary data that guarantee the same degree of representation as the systems under study. It is now urgent to develop databases that reflect local manufacturing facilities and meet the need for evaluation methods complete with all sustainability indicators. Active participation on the part of companies is therefore essential for promoting and performing actions to reduce environmental impact.
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