More composites manufacturers are creating and marketing environmentally friendly products, as architects and building designers seek sustainable materials and methods. Meanwhile, stricter state and federal health/safety guidelines in the workplace have increased the need for composites firms to offer products that are both user-friendly and environmentally safe.
With that goal in mind, the ACMA’s Green Composites Committee (GCC) recently undertook the development of life-cycle inventory (LCI) data, information that could help important markets to better understand the environmental impact of composites.
At the recent COMPOSITES 2012 event in Las Vegas, Melissa Huff updated attendees on the GCC’s work, including data submitted to the U.S. LCI Database. She is senior chemical engineer and project manager for Franklin Associates, a division of ERG in Prairie Village, Kan., that helps clients preserve the environment, improve worker protection, ensure safety and plan sustainable facilities.
What is important about the work you are doing with GCC?
It’s important these days for producers and users of products to understand the environmental footprint of products, beyond the processes and life-cycle stages with which they are directly familiar—for example, environmental burdens for production of the materials and fuels used to make the products, extending all the way back to raw material extraction. More and more large companies (and some smaller ones) have a person dedicated to Life-Cycle Assessments (LCAs). Companies are buying and using LCA software and need data specific to their products. This is where the U.S. LCI Database comes into play. I think ACMA is providing a great service to the composites industry, its customers and the LCA community by providing this data to the U.S. LCI Database.
Can you describe the industry benefits of having solid LCI data in that database?
If this type of data is not available, users of LCA who have decided to scrutinize the environmental side of the composites industry will take it upon themselves to find or develop their own data to use in place of this LCI data that we are now putting together. Where will they get this data? Will it truly represent your industry? The best source for reliable, representative data is the members of the industry sector making the products. If the data is available to the public, it WILL get used, and the industry will be reassured that the data used is truly representing their materials and processes here in the U.S.
What’s the current situation with composites and LCI data? What’s the plan for moving forward, and what challenges now exist?
The data collection task took longer than was planned, which is pretty normal for LCA projects, and now we are at the point of getting all my questions about the data collected answered. The plan will be to finalize the report and present datasets to the U.S. LCI Database in the very near future. After this, it will be up to ACMA to decide whether to move forward on providing more datasets for composites processes and materials to the U.S. LCI Database.
What’s one thing you hope attendees will take away from your session?
I hope they realize that LCI is a valuable tool that can be used to help a company to make informed decisions on energy and environmental improvements within their products and processes, as well as a great tool for the industry to share the benefits of using these products.
(Editor’s note: LCA is the mathematical model of a whole product from extraction of raw material to production. LCI is comprised of indicators or specific measurements that are taken at each particular point or location within the manufacturing process. The amount of energy used to manufacture one part of an overall product, or the emissions of a specific factory, is an example of LCI data.)