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Two-Step Sensitivity Testing of Parametrized and Regionalized Life Cycle Assessments: Methodology and Case Study

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posted on 04.06.2013, 00:00 by Christopher L. Mutel, Laura de Baan, Stefanie Hellweg
Comprehensive sensitivity analysis is a significant tool to interpret and improve life cycle assessment (LCA) models, but is rarely performed. Sensitivity analysis will increase in importance as inventory databases become regionalized, increasing the number of system parameters, and parametrized, adding complexity through variables and nonlinear formulas. We propose and implement a new two-step approach to sensitivity analysis. First, we identify parameters with high global sensitivities for further examination and analysis with a screening step, the method of elementary effects. Second, the more computationally intensive contribution to variance test is used to quantify the relative importance of these parameters. The two-step sensitivity test is illustrated on a regionalized, nonlinear case study of the biodiversity impacts from land use of cocoa production, including a worldwide cocoa products trade model. Our simplified trade model can be used for transformable commodities where one is assessing market shares that vary over time. In the case study, the highly uncertain characterization factors for the Ivory Coast and Ghana contributed more than 50% of variance for almost all countries and years examined. The two-step sensitivity test allows for the interpretation, understanding, and improvement of large, complex, and nonlinear LCA systems.