Navigating Sustainability: Integrating Life-Cycle Assessment in Aviation

circularaviation illustration

Navigating Sustainability: Integrating Life-Cycle Assessment in Aviation

The aviation industry, a key player in technological advancement, is setting its sights on sustainable practices. In this context, the SUSTAINair project endeavours to introduce three novel production processes with elements of the circular economy (CE). This article explores the integration of CE within a life-cycle assessment (LCA) framework, shedding light on its significance for the future of aviation sustainability.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) & Circular Economy (CE)

Key to SUSTAINair’s long-term viability aims is Life Cycle Assessment, a method for measuring the resource consumption of a product system throughout its lifecycle. Comprising four distinct phases—goal and scope definition, inventory analysis, impact assessment, and interpretation—LCA provides a comprehensive view of the sustainability performance of the product system.

Circular Economy, an extension of the traditional linear economic model, introduces principles of eliminating waste, circulating products and materials, and regenerating nature. While aviation has already adopted some CE elements, there is a need for a more holistic approach, especially in areas like end-of-life solutions and material recycling.

The integration of Circular Economy into Life Cycle Assessment gives rise to the CE-LCA model. This approach not only evaluates the foreground system but also considers secondary product-systems that contribute recyclates or receive materials. The CE-LCA proves to be a dynamic method for assessing environmental impacts at a product or supply chain level, providing a systemic view and accounting for socio-economic impacts.

Application in SUSTAINair

Some of the research undertaken within SUSTAINair has focused on assessing the sustainable performance of three production processes using the CE-LCA model. These three different aluminium production processes – thermoset flat plate, thermoplast laminate, and die-casting – incorporate recycled materials, which were analysed through the four phases of the LCA. A cut-off approach is adopted to account for recyclates, assuming the sustainable impact of recycled materials has already been considered. The analysis includes factors such as the Material Circularity Indicator (MCI) and the Linear Flow Indicator (LFI).

 

 

Outlook

The primary goal is to compare the life cycle impact of the assessed parts or materials with their conventional counterparts. Greenhouse gas emissions serve as the key metric, with the functional unit being measured “per part” or “per kg.” The assessment scoping covers production, use, and disposal stages, excluding pre- and post-use considerations due to data limitations.

While CE-LCA proves to be a valuable tool, challenges such as data gaps and the experimental nature of assessed parts highlight the need for ongoing refinement. As the aviation industry moves towards sustainability, the integration of circular economy principles from the design phase onward becomes imperative.

In conclusion, the integration of Circular Economy principles into the Life Cycle Assessment framework offers a promising avenue for assessing the sustainability of aviation production processes. SUSTAINair’s exploration of these methodologies highlights the need for a comprehensive and dynamic approach to ensure a truly sustainable future for aviation. As the industry evolves, refining these methodologies and embracing circular economy principles in design can propel aviation towards a more environmentally friendly and socially responsible future.

Text by Tristan Bath, RTDS Group

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