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Analyzing the Environmental Benefits of Industrial Symbiosis

Life Cycle Assessment Applied to a Finnish Forest Industry Complex


Address correspondence to:
Laura Sokka
VTT Technical Research Centre of
Finland P.O. Box 1000
FI-02044 VTT, Finland


Studies of industrial symbiosis (IS) focus on the physical flows of materials and energy in local industrial systems. In an ideal IS, waste material and energy are shared or exchanged among the actors of the system, thereby reducing the consumption of virgin material and energy inputs, and likewise the generation of waste and emissions. In this study, the environmental impacts of an industrial ecosystem centered around a pulp and paper mill and operating as an IS are analyzed using life cycle assessment (LCA). The system is compared with two hypothetical reference systems in which the actors would operate in isolation. Moreover, the system is analyzed further in order to identify possibilities for additional links between the actors. The results show that of the total life cycle impacts of the system, upstream processes made the greatest overall contribution to the results. Comparison with stand-alone production shows that in the case studied, the industrial symbiosis results in modest improvements, 5% to 20% in most impact categories, in the overall environmental impacts of the system. Most of the benefits occur upstream through heat and electricity production for the local town. All in all it is recommended that when the environmental impacts of industrial symbiosis are assessed, the impacts occurring upstream should also be studied, not only the impacts within the ecosystem.

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