• data rectification;
  • exergy;
  • industrial ecology;
  • life-cycle assessment (LCA);
  • material balance;
  • uncertainty

Abstract: Obtaining reliable results from life-cycle assessment studies is often quite difficult because life-cycle inventory (LCI) data are usually erroneous, incomplete, and even physically meaningless. The real data must satisfy the laws of thermodynamics, so the quality of LCI data may be enhanced by adjusting them to satisfy these laws. This is not a new idea, but a formal thermodynamically sound and statistically rigorous approach for accomplishing this task is not yet available. This article proposes such an approach based on methods for data rectification developed in process systems engineering. This approach exploits redundancy in the available data and models and solves a constrained optimization problem to remove random errors and estimate some missing values. The quality of the results and presence of gross errors are determined by statistical tests on the constraints and measurements. The accuracy of the rectified data is strongly dependent on the accuracy and completeness of the available models, which should capture information such as the life-cycle network, stream compositions, and reactions. Such models are often not provided in LCI databases, so the proposed approach tackles many new challenges that are not encountered in process data rectification. An iterative approach is developed that relies on increasingly detailed information about the life-cycle processes from the user. A comprehensive application of the method to the chlor-alkali inventory being compiled by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory demonstrates the benefits and challenges of this approach.