Overview

Project Highlights:

  • A holistic, carbon focused assessment of solid waste management practices
  • International travel opportunities for training and conferences
  • Training in life cycle assessment techniques used by employers

Waste management accounts for c. 4% of the UK’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Although small in comparison with the power generation and transport sectors, improvements in the performance of the waste sector can be achieved relatively easily and help contribute to a reduction in overall emissions. At the same time, waste-related GHG reduction strategies will help the UK nations to achieve their targets to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill and to increase waste reduction and recycling rates.

This project fundamentally addresses the pressing need to reduce GHG emissions from anthropogenic activities. To do this requires both an understanding of biogeochemical processes and a holistic examination of complex operational systems. This project will focus on the latter by using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA – Figure 1) tools to explore current solid waste management practices (e.g. landfilling, composting & anaerobic digestion) and make recommendations that will reduce GHG emissions from the sector.

Current waste management LCAs are strongly dependent on the assumptions made regarding the long-term fate of the carbon in the waste. For example, LCA models that assume a proportion of the biological carbon is permanently sequestered in landfills can indicate that landfill is the preferred waste management option. This is in contrast to national and international policies of minimising landfilling. Similarly, many LCA models do not account for the fact that much (if not all) of the carbon in waste-derived compost or digestate will degrade in the decade following the application to land. This project will combine the latest understanding in carbon cycling and LCA tools to explore these ideas further.

In summary, the aim of this project is to develop and apply a transparent protocol for carrying out LCA and carbon footprint studies of waste management processes, which will in turn allow carbon impacts to be quantified in the short, medium and long terms. It is envisaged that this approach may alter current expert and industry thinking with regards to waste management and generate a more accurate assessment of the GHG emissions from the waste management sector.  

Life cycle assessment diagram. Credit: GE Lifesciences: https://promo.gelifesciences.com/gl/BP/UP_art4.html#.V-u6C_krLmF

Methodology

This will be a desk-based study making use of the EASTECH (Denmark) and WRATE (UK) LCA software tools and of existing models of carbon degradation.  Where necessary, new models of landfill, composting and digestion processes will be developed.

The project aims will be met by carrying out the following activities:

  1. Reviewing published LCA studies and identifying those where the assumptions regarding carbon lead to significant differences in their findings.
  2. Reviewing the landfill, composting and digestion models used in EASETECH and WRATE.
  3. Revising existing and developing new models that allow the user to specify the assumptions regarding carbon degradation and to assess the fate of compost and digestate spread to land as a function of time.
  4. Developing a protocol for LCA practitioners that allows the short, medium and long term fate of carbon to be quantified as part of the sensitivity analysis stage of the LCA.

Training and Skills

During the first year, the student will attend a 10-day course on Life Cycle Assessment and the use of the EASETECH model at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). If necessary bespoke training will be given on environmental mass balance accounting. During the second year, the student will receive additional training in technical writing and prepare, submit and deliver a paper at an international conference.

CENTA students are required to complete 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10 day placement. In the first year, students will be trained as a single cohort on environmental science, research methods and core skills. Throughout the PhD, training will progress from core skills sets to master classes specific to CENTA research themes. 

Timeline

Year 1: Develop competency in LCA techniques and review published waste-related LCAs. Travel to DTU for training.

Year 2: Develop novel models to predict the fate of carbon in landfill, composting and digestion processes, incorporate and apply these models in existing LCA tools.  

Year 3: Develop and apply a protocol that allows the fate of carbon in waste processes to be quantified in the short, medium and long terms as part of an LCA study. International conference attendance.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

The student will work closely with our research partners at Cranfield University and with the consultancy Resource and Waste Solutions Partnership (RWSP).

Further Details

Students should have a strong background in chemical or environmental engineering, chemistry, environmental science or biology and enthusiasm for environmental pollution assessment/control. The student will join the well-established Integrated Waste Systems team researching ways of reducing the environmental impact of solid waste management at the Open University.

Please contact Dr Carl Boardman (Carl.Boardman@open.ac.uk) for further information.

Applications should include:

Apologies that some bits of information are requested multiple times on different forms. Please fill in everything requested.

Applications should be sent to

STEM-EEES-PhD-Student-Recruitment@open.ac.uk  

by 5 pm on 25th January 2017