Exergy-aided environmental life cycle assessment of propylene oxide production

A. Ghannadzadeh*, A.H. Tarighaleslami

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Purpose Propylene oxide (PO) is one of the useful chemicals that is predicted to experience a compound annual growth rate of 3.9% from 2020 through 2027. The environmental burdens of the current PO production process and its corresponding utility system including power generation system need to be determined quantitatively as a response to increasing demands for its environmentally sustainable production process in the energy transition period from fossil fuels towards renewable energy resources. Methods A new methodology is proposed to study the PO production process called exergy-aided environmental life cycle assessment (EELCA), using the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory's database known as life cycle inventory (LCI) database. EELCA is dedicated to LCA studies of processes in the energy transition period and is aided by Monte Carlo simulation (MCS) as a tool for discernibility analysis which brings another dimension to the EELCA because MCS was often used to assess uncertainty in LCA studies. EELCA impact categories are classified into two classes: (i) emission-dependent impact categories addressed by ReCiPe and (ii) resource-dependent impact categories covered by cumulative exergy demand (CExD). The alternative energy like bioenergy is evaluated through the stepwise scenarios assisted by MCS, which are employed in openLCA with 10,000 iterations. Results and discussion The cumulative exergy depletion of the base scenario is 6.1898 MJ (CExD). The human health and ecosystem impacts are 3.65E-06 DALY and 1.58E-08 species.yr, respectively. Human health-total (2.7E-4 DALY) is the most important category, where the power generation system by residual fuel oil (33.19%) is on top of the list. By analysing statistically discernible scenarios using EELCA, it has been proven that natural gas is not a proper choice for energy mix in the energy transition period. This is because natural gas-based scenarios present more burden compared to residual fuel oil-based scenarios especially regarding human toxicity, freshwater ecotoxicity, marine ecotoxicity, terrestrial acidification, and particulate matter formation. This study shows that the reduction in environmental impacts without changes in the production process technology is feasible through implementing bioenergy scenarios. Conclusions Having applied successfully EELCA, this study shows that PO production in the present configuration is not sustainable at all. The statistically discernible scenarios regarding energy mix selection help to enhance sustainability of the PO production process. Moreover, by examining the application of CExD along with LCA analysis, it is proved that by using the concept of CExD, we were able to represent the environmental impacts of the entire system with one figure, which tremendously facilitates the calculations in MCS.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-37
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Issue number1
Early online date9 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • LCA
  • ReCiPe
  • Exergy
  • Propylene oxide
  • Energy transition
  • Biomass
  • Monte Carlo simulation
  • Exergy-aided environmental life cycle assessment
  • LAND

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