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  • A Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment Framework for Geotechnical Engineering

    ERC Team Members

    CBBG Faculty

    Alissa Kendall, UC Davis

    Other Research Staff

    Graduate Students

    Alena Raymond

    James Tipton

    Undergraduate Students

    Project Goals

    The goal of this project is to develop a life cycle sustainability assessment (LCSA) framework for

    geotechnical engineering and to apply this framework to CBBG projects to encourage

    sustainability-oriented innovation in geotechnical solutions.

    The project's role in support of the strategic plan

    The LCSA framework is used to inform CBBG project selection and to guide innovation as

    projects mature through each of the 3-planes (i.e., fundamental knowledge, enabling technologies,

    and systems). The LCSA framework is also a mechanism for industry engagement through the

    development of benchmark LCSAs, which include cost assessments. Industry partners also inform

    assessment of feasibility and cost for proposed technologies (once research and development is

    sufficiently mature) as part of the LCSA process.

    Fundamental Research, Education, or Technology Advancement Barriers

    Fundamental research questions that must be answered to develop a standardized LCSA approach

    for evaluation of geotechnical systems include: 1) what is the appropriate scope and methods for

    environmental life cycle assessment (ELCA) of geotechnical systems; and 2) what level of detail

    and predictive capabilities are required for robust analysis outcomes at the research and

    development stage of technology development. Barriers to advancing this research include: 1) the

    maturity of CBBG projects, which affect the availability of data and information required for

    LCSA of a given technology; 2) the development of a life cycle inventory database and modeling

    approach to streamline assessment; and 3) collecting estimates of damage costs for pollutants to

    provide a mechanism for including pollution damage costs (i.e., externalities) in life cycle cost

    analysis (LCCA).

    Any research aspect that involves foreign collaborations, especially indicating the length of

    time US faculty or students spent abroad conducting their work, and vice versa, and the

    value added of that work to the students/facultys work.

    None to report.

    Achievements in previous years

    1) Development, piloting, and dissemination of LCSA Questionnaire for CBBG project proposals.

    2) Development of two Example LCSA Questionnaires for instructive purposes. 3) Completion of a comprehensive literature review of LCSA in the geotechnical field (with

    a focus on ELCA) to provide a critical review on the state of the practice, identify gaps,

  • and propose best practices for ELCA in the geotechnical engineering field. A manuscript

    for peer review was submitted in 2016.

    Achievements in past year 1) Revision and refinement of LCSA Questionnaire, which is now CBBG Annual Project

    Evaluation Report 2: Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (Report 2). Development of a

    standardized approach to rating and feedback of submitted Report 2s, entitled Summary

    LCSA Evaluation Statement (referred to as Outcomes Memo in last years project report).

    2) Completion of evaluation for all submitted Report 2s. This included two quantitative ELCAs for projects with enough data and information to support quantitative analysis

    (MICP and root-inspired foundations), and qualitative evaluations of all other submitted


    3) Acceptance and online publication of one peer-reviewed journal paper entitled Review of life-cycle-based environmental assessments of geotechnical systems

    (http://dx.doi.org/10.1680/jensu.16.00073). This article critically reviews the body of

    previous work on LCA applied to geotechnical systems through a parametric assessment,

    summarizing the state-of-the-practice, identifying the sources of uncertainty and

    variability that lead to divergent results and conclusions, and developing

    recommendations for future LCAs of geotechnical systems. Table 1 below summarizes

    our findings with respect to previous studies, and illustrates the limited number of

    infrastructure types assessed and the relatively small number of peer-reviewed studies

    that have been published:

    Table 1. Summary of Identified Literature of LCA applied to Geotechnical Systems Study




    Year Publication






    Region of




    1 Chau 2008 CP No RW UK Process-Based

    2 Storesund 2008 CP No RW US EIO-LCA

    3 Rafalko 2010 CP No MSE RW US Process-Based

    4 Inui 2011 JA Yes RW UK Process-Based

    5 Soga 2011 JA Yes RW UK Lit. Review

    6 Lee 2015 CP No MSE RW -- Process-Based

    7 Giri 2015 CP No RW US Process-Based

    8 Damians 2016 JA Yes RW -- Process-Based

    9 Phillips 2016 CP No RW US Process-Based

    10 Misra 2010 MT Yes DF -- Process-Based

    11 Giri 2014 CP Yes DF US Process-Based

    12 Spaulding 2008 CP No GI US, AU Process-Based

    13 Pinske 2011 MT Yes GI US Process-Based

    14 Shillaber 2015b JA Yes GI US Hybrid LCA

    15 Walker 2014 CP No Other UK, DE, DK Lit. Review

    16 Chau 2012 JA Yes Other UK Process-Based

    Note: CP = conference paper; JA = journal article; MT = Masters thesis; RW = retaining wall; MSE = mechanically

    stabilized earth; DF = deep foundation; GI = ground improvement; UK = United Kingdom; US = United States; AU

    = Australia; DE = Germany; DK = Denmark


  • Figure 1 describes the sources of variability and uncertainty in LCAs of geotechnical

    systems. Though some of these sources are common in LCAs of many types of systems,

    the site-specific nature of geotechnical solutions is a particular challenge for LCA.

    Figure 1. Sources of Variability and Uncertainty in Geotechnical LCA

    4) Acceptance and online publication of one conference paper entitled Life-Cycle Assessment of Ground Improvement Alternatives for the Treasure Island, California,

    Redevelopment (https://doi.org/10.1061/9780784480434.037) and accompanying

    presentation by Alena Raymond at the Geotechnical Frontiers 2017 conference in

    Orlando, Florida. This study compared the environmental and economic impacts of five

    ground improvement methods for the possible redevelopment of Treasure Island in San

    Francisco, California. For each improvement method, the study used LCA to assess the

    energy, global warming potential, acidification potential, smog formation potential,

    project cost, and social cost of carbon. The scope of analysis is illustrated in Figure 2.

    Figure 2. System Definition and Boundary of the Analysis


  • The study concluded that the most environmentally preferable combination of ground

    improvement methods does not include deep soil mixing, as illustrated in the comparison

    of scenarios in Table 2.

    Table 2. Treasure Island Ground Improvement Scenario Analysis Ground Improvement



    (ENGEO 2011)









    Deep Soil Mixing 10.4% -- -- -- 10.4%

    Vibro Replacement -- 10.4% 10.4% 10.4% --

    Vibro Compaction 9.1% -- 65.0% 9.1% 80.5%

    Deep Dynamic Compaction 80.5% 80.5% -- 80.5% --

    Earthquake Drains -- 9.1% 24.6% -- 9.1%

    Primary Energy (GJ) 447427 158038 279035 122349 543447

    GWP (tonnes CO2e) 83047 10834 24512 10067 96187

    AP (tonnes SO2e) 200 1 61 36 210

    Smog (tonnes O3e) 5308 40 1692 974 5606

    SCC - 3% Avg ($) $3,737,099 $487,546 $1,103,023 $453,003 $4,328,401

    5) Initiation of research for a second peer-reviewed journal article focusing on a critical review of environmental impact indicators for ELCA applied to geotechnical systems and


    Summary of other relevant work being conducted within and outside of the ERC and how

    this project is different

    Related work outside of the ERC is being conducted at UC Davis and elsewhere to develop a

    framework and guidelines for ELCA of related systems, such as pavements and complete streets.

    However, the pavement ELCA guidelines do not include the full scope of the LCSA (only

    environmental impacts, and not economic or social impacts), and cannot inform indicator

    development for geotechnical systems based on our critical review of the literature and existing

    guidelines. The work on complete streets includes environmental, economic and social

    components of sustainability within an LCA framework, which is aligned with the goals of the

    ERC LCSA process. However, the social and economic impacts of complete streets are not similar

    to those of geotechnical systems. Exploring indicators of social and economic impact for any

    infrastructure system could inform future indicator selection for geotechnical projects; however,

    the overlap is likely to be minimal as many of the impacts related to, for example, road and street

    infrastructure are the result of how the infrastructure is directly used by people, and most

    geotechnical systems are not directly used in the same way.

    Plans for the next year

    The following developments are planned for next year:

    1) LCSA Questionnaire (now Report 2) dis


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