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Accounting for the Biogeochemical Cycle of Nitrogen in Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment

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journal contribution
posted on 20.08.2013, 00:00 by Shweta Singh, Bhavik R. Bakshi
Nitrogen is indispensable for sustaining human activities through its role in the production of food, animal feed, and synthetic chemicals. This has encouraged significant anthropogenic mobilization of reactive nitrogen and its emissions into the environment resulting in severe disruption of the nitrogen cycle. This paper incorporates the biogeochemical cycle of nitrogen into the 2002 input-output model of the U.S. economy. Due to the complexity of this cycle, this work proposes a unique classification of nitrogen flows to facilitate understanding of the interaction between economic activities and various flows in the nitrogen cycle. The classification scheme distinguishes between the mobilization of inert nitrogen into its reactive form, use of nitrogen in various products, and nitrogen losses to the environment. The resulting inventory and model of the US economy can help quantify the direct and indirect impacts or dependence of economic sectors on the nitrogen cycle. This paper emphasizes the need for methods to manage the N cycle that focus not just on N losses, which has been the norm until now, but also include other N flows for a more comprehensive view and balanced decisions. Insight into the N profile of various sectors of the 2002 U.S. economy is presented, and the inventory can also be used for LCA or Hybrid LCA of various products. The resulting model is incorporated in the approach of Ecologically-Based LCA and available online.