Dynamic Life Cycle Assessment (dLCA) of Emerging Waste Valorisation Technologies: Guiding Sustainable Waste-derived Biosurfactant Production

Project: Research

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The large and increasing amount of solid waste generated each year in cities makes solid waste management one of modern society's most pressing issues. While the most efficient solution is to prevent waste generation in the first place, the biotransformation of food and other organic waste streams into value-added products ranging from compost to biomaterials and bioenergy is necessary to divert them away from saturated landfills. Microbial biosurfactants, surface-active molecules naturally produced by microorganisms, can be derived from the fermentation of organic waste streams. Biosurfactants, in particular sophorolipids (SL), hold promising opportunities for application in environmental remediation, cosmetics, personal care, detergents, pharmaceutical and agricultural industries. Sophorolipid production from the bioconversion of food and other organic waste is a promising solution, which is still an emerging valorisation technology. Thus, it is imperative to quantify and optimize the environmental impacts of this emerging technology very early in its design phase to guide its scale-up towards maximizing its sustainability. While LCA and TEA are widely applied for retrospective quantification of environmental impacts of technologies ready for implementation, the inherent lack of detailed datasets for emerging technologies contributes to significant uncertainties, making the adoption of traditional assessment approaches challenging. This project proposes taking a dynamic LCA (dLCA) approach to address these inherent uncertainties through iterative collaborative research with biotechnologists (Co-I) at the forefront of developing waste-derived sophorolipid production. The overarching goal is to apply the dynamic life cycle assessment (dLCA) framework to compare alternative pathways for bioconversion of organic waste to sophorolipids to guide its sustainable design. The project has three main objectives, 1) Model the life cycle of the waste valorisation technology to produce sophorolipid at the laboratory-scale, 2) Assess the economic and environmental impacts of alternative pathways for sophorolipid production at an industrial-scale, and 3) Prioritise future research questions to guide the sustainable design of emerging waste valorisation technology through repeated traversal of the dLCA framework. Successful application of dLCA will be transformative in its capacity to advance the understanding of the tradeoffs between systemic environmental costs and economic benefits for design decisions. Also, given the variation in the composition of waste streams for different regions, such a systematic evaluation of the environmental and economic implications will steer the selection of SL production pathways keeping location-specific sustainability in mind. This project's completion will provide new knowledge on potential unforeseen consequences associated with the eventual implementation of a full-scale waste-derived SL production plant.  


Project number9043178
Grant typeGRF
StatusNot started
Effective start/end date1/01/22 → …