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Analytical Propagation of Uncertainty in Life Cycle Assessment Using Matrix Formulation


  • Hugues Imbeault-Tétreault,

    Corresponding author
    • Address correspondence to: Hugues Imbeault-Tétreault, Department of Chemical Engineering, École Polytechnique de Montréal, P.O. Box 6079, Stn. Centre-ville, Montréal (Québec) H3C 3A7, Canada. Email:

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  • Olivier Jolliet,

  • Louise Deschênes,

  • Ralph K. Rosenbaum


Inventory data and characterization factors in life cycle assessment (LCA) contain considerable uncertainty. The most common method of parameter uncertainty propagation to the impact scores is Monte Carlo simulation, which remains a resource-intensive option—probably one of the reasons why uncertainty assessment is not a regular step in LCA. An analytical approach based on Taylor series expansion constitutes an effective means to overcome the drawbacks of the Monte Carlo method. This project aimed to test the approach on a real case study, and the resulting analytical uncertainty was compared with Monte Carlo results. The sensitivity and contribution of input parameters to output uncertainty were also analytically calculated. This article outlines an uncertainty analysis of the comparison between two case study scenarios. We conclude that the analytical method provides a good approximation of the output uncertainty. Moreover, the sensitivity analysis reveals that the uncertainty of the most sensitive input parameters was not initially considered in the case study. The uncertainty analysis of the comparison of two scenarios is a useful means of highlighting the effects of correlation on uncertainty calculation. This article shows the importance of the analytical method in uncertainty calculation, which could lead to a more complete uncertainty analysis in LCA practice.