UMaine Developing Database for ‘Cradle to Grave’ Sustainability

University of Maine industrial ecologist and certified Life Cycle Assessment professional Anthony Halog has received a $150,000 federal grant to create a comprehensive new online database to allow researchers, scientists and industrialists to assess ecological, social and economic implications of new and emerging products, starting with wood-based biofuels.

Halog says the database will benefit Maine and other states with an economic reliance on forestry, and could become a national model for assessing how “green” new and emerging products are, and what advantages or disadvantages come with the manufacture or provision of various services and products.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a global environmental initiative to assess products from “cradle to grave,” according to Halog. It objectively examines how much the creation, distribution, use and eventual disposal of products affects natural resources and the environment.

“The trend is to make any product environmentally sustainable,” says Halog, a School of Forest Resources faculty member. “Any product, existing or emerging, if you want the product to be greener, and more ecologically benign, you can apply a life cycle assessment. At every stage of the supply chain, there are stakeholders. Each has specific environmental, social and economic interests. This database looks at every stage of the supply chain.”

Halog’s database is being created as an XML (extended markup language) database with assistance from Ph.D. students Nana Awuah Bortsie-Aryee and Binod Neupane. It will be a computer-based, standardized decision support system to help supply chain stakeholders understand the sustainability of developing forest-based bioenergy in the Northeast.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Sustainable Bioenergy Grant program is funding the project. Halog expects the preliminary database to be available on the Internet in the summer of 2012.

The “one-stop database,” Halog says, will include environmental emissions data, in addition to economic and social data, which include jobs creation, for biofuels development.

A standardized and publicly accessible LCA database also will curb the practice of “greenwashing,” when manufacturers make false claims about a product’s sustainability.

The database is starting with life cycle sustainability assessments of forest-based biofuels being developed at the University of Maine.

“The usefulness of this database is if you scale up the technology, is it environmentally competitive with corn-based fuels?” Halog says. “Here in Maine, we’re interested to know if we scale up production, will it be profitable and sustainable?”

Corn-based fuels, for instance, were once considered a technological breakthrough in the emerging field of ethanol and biofuel development, but detrimental effects on food production, land and water use, and the energy needed to produce it, has resulted in decreasing interest and research funding for its development, Halog says. An LCA might have projected the product’s long-term deficiencies, he says.

The database will be one of the latest attempts to contribute to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) initiative on “Towards a Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment: (LCSA) Making Informed Choices on Products.”

Contact: Anthony Halog, (207) 581-2944