Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers develop rapid method to measure carbon footprints

14.09.2012
Possible step to lower emissions

Researchers have developed new software that can rapidly calculate the carbon footprints of thousands of products simultaneously, a process that up to now has been time consuming and expensive.

The methodology should help companies to accurately label products, and to design ways to reduce their environmental impacts, said Christoph Meinrenken, the project's leader and associate research scientist at Columbia University's Earth Institute and Columbia Engineering. A new study, published online in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, describes the methodology.

The project is the result of a collaboration between the institute's Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy and PepsiCo, Inc. Its original aim was to evaluate and help standardize PepsiCo's calculations ofthe amount of carbon dioxide emitted when a product is made, packaged, distributed and disposed of. Started in 2007, it resulted in the first U.S. carbon footprint label certified by an impartial third party, for Tropicana orange juice. PepsiCo has been pilot-testing the methodology for other uses since 2011.

Meinrenken and his team used a life-cycle-analysis database--a tool used to assess the environmental impact of a product--that covered 1,137 PepsiCo products. They then developed three new techniques that work together, enabling them to calculate thousands of footprints within minutes, with minimal user input. The key component was a model that generates estimated emission factors for materials, eliminating manual mapping of a product's ingredients and packaging materials. Meinrenken said the automatically generated factors enable non-experts "to calculate approximate carbon footprints and alleviate resource constraints for companies embarking on large-scale product carbon footprinting." He said the software complies with guidelines sponsored by the nonprofit World Resources Institute, which provides standards against which carbon footprints can be audited.

Up until now, life-cycle-analysis has mostly been performed one product at a time. This imposes large requirements for personnel, expertise, and time, and few companies have enough employees with specialized expertise. Meinrenken said that some have tried to overcome this bottleneck by reverting to aggregate data and calculations, but they usually miss out on the microscopic level of detail that a proper analysis requires.

The researchers' approach was inspired by fields outside environmental science, Meinrenken said. "At companies like Facebook or Netflix, engineers employ statistical wizardry to mine vast datasets and essentially teach computers to predict, for instance, who will like a particular movie," he said. He used similar methods to mine detailed product and supply chain data. "For an environmental engineer, using such data to estimate how much the environment will 'like' certain products and services is especially rewarding," he said. "Consumers will be able to make more informed choices." The information can also help companies design and assess ways to lessen products' impacts, he said.

Al Halvorsen, senior director of sustainability at PepsiCo, said, "The newly developed software promises to not only save time and money for companies like PepsiCo, but also to provide fresh insights into how companies measure, manage, and reduce their carbon footprint in the future."

Klaus Lackner, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy, said, "Fast carbon footprinting is a great example of how academic methodologies [coupled] with modern data processing and statistical tools can be brought to life and unlock their power in the real world." Meinrenken's team is now looking at transferring the methodology from carbon to other arenas, such as water use.

Kevin Krajick | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ei.columbia.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Safeguarding sustainability through forest certification mapping
27.06.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

nachricht Dune ecosystem modelling
26.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Carbon Nanotubes Turn Electrical Current into Light-emitting Quasi-particles

Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers

Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...

Im Focus: Flexible proximity sensor creates smart surfaces

Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.

At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...

Im Focus: 3-D scanning with water

3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects

A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Large-Mouthed Fish Was Top Predator After Mass Extinction

26.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

Getting closer to porous, light-responsive materials

26.07.2017 | Materials Sciences

Large, distant comets more common than previously thought

26.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>