Life-cycle assessments as a decision-support tool in the food and feed sectors: evidence from R&D case studies


As part of the Smart Protein project, researchers from EurA, Ghent University, and University College Cork recently published a paper that looked at the environmental issues involved in the early stages of product and process development, and the opportunities for life-cycle assessment (LCA) techniques to address these issues. In the paper, the authors examine two LCA case studies dealing with novel approaches to food and feed supply through implementing the valorisation and upcycling of waste and side-streams, respectively.

A life-cycle assessment is an analysis technique that quantifies the environmental impacts associated with a product’s life-cycle stages. While it is a well-established tool for driving development in a more sustainable direction, its application in the earlier research phase involves several practical challenges.

Summary and key findings

  • LCA is an established environmental tool that provides an integrated evaluation of the environmental impacts of products/processes. As a methodology to assess ecological performance, it is known to be complicated since its full framework requires extensive data that cannot be provided during the R&D stage.
  • However, performing LCA during the early phases of product and process development is nonetheless important in the food and feed sectors.
  • In order to accompany the development of new products with environmental assessment approaches, the LCA practitioner and all relevant stakeholders must be aware that a simplified, broader, and more open approach should be used rather than the usual holistic analysis.
  • Such analysis is subject to uncertainty and requires assumptions that must be based on discussions, not on pre-written statements that are gratuitously presented as correct.
  • For an increased understanding of the importance and challenges of performing LCAs of emerging technologies and concepts, and in order to build an ongoing life-cycle inventory database and LCA result portfolio for future evaluation and comparative studies, the authors intend to encourage all researchers and practitioners engaged with LCA work to publish their data regarding the application of LCAs at the early stages of research and development of products and services.

You can access the paper here.