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Estimating Material and Energy Flows in Life Cycle Inventory with Statistical Models


Vincent Moreau, CIRAIG – Department of Chemical Engineering, Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal, P.O. Box 6079, Downtown, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3C 3A7.


Data (un)availability and uncertainty are recurring problems in life cycle assessment, and particularly inventory analysis. Advances in life cycle inventory have focused on the propagation and management of uncertainty, but this article addresses the question of how to account for unavailable data and corresponding uncertainty. Large and complicated systems often lack complete data due to confidential practices or the efforts required in the data collection process. Electricity production with multiple processes generating a single product is a classic example. Instead of the conventional process-based models to estimate missing data, the approach developed in this article divides systems based on functionally equivalent objects. Each one of these objects is then described in terms of characteristic variables, such as power capacity. Kriging, a flexible statistical estimator, allows for the estimation of unknown material and energy flows based on the objects’ characteristic variables. Both univariate and multivariate kriging are tested and compared to regression analysis. It is found that kriging performs better than linear regression, according to the mean absolute error criterion. Multivariate kriging provides an even more accurate joint estimation method to bridge data gaps scattered across inventories and when observable values of material and energy flows differ from one object to the next. Parameters of the underlying models are interpreted in terms of data uncertainty.