Ignoring correlation in uncertainty and sensitivity analysis in life cycle assessment: what is the risk?

E.A. Groen*, R. Heijungs

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is an established tool to quantify the environmental impact of a product. A good assessment of uncertainty is important for making well-informed decisions in comparative LCA, as well as for correctly prioritising data collection efforts. Under- or overestimation of output uncertainty (e.g. output variance) will lead to incorrect decisions in such matters. The presence of correlations between input parameters during uncertainty propagation, can increase or decrease the the output variance. However, most LCA studies that include uncertainty analysis, ignore correlations between input parameters during uncertainty propagation, which may lead to incorrect conclusions. Two approaches to include correlations between input parameters during uncertainty propagation and global sensitivity analysis were studied: an analytical approach and a sampling approach. The use of both approaches is illustrated for an artificial case study of electricity production. Results demonstrate that both approaches yield approximately the same output variance and sensitivity indices for this specific case study. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the analytical approach can be used to quantify the risk of ignoring correlations between input parameters during uncertainty propagation in LCA. We demonstrate that: (1) we can predict if including correlations among input parameters in uncertainty propagation will increase or decrease output variance; (2) we can quantify the risk of ignoring correlations on the output variance and the global sensitivity indices. Moreover, this procedure requires only little data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-109
JournalEnvironmental Impact Assessment Review
Volume62
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Keywords

  • correlation
  • covariance matrix
  • global sensitivity analysis
  • Uncertainty propagation

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