Life Cycle Assessment-based software for geothermal applications

By University College London & TWI

​S4CE assessed the environmental impacts (including carbon emissions) of geothermal operations at partners site by means of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). S4CE partners Andrea Paulillo (UCL), Xiaofei Cui (TWI) and Paul Brown (TWI) then worked together to develop a flexible and user-friendly LCA-based software application that can be used by geothermal companies as well as policy-makers.

What is LCA?

LCA is a standardised and widely adopted framework to quantify the environmental impacts associated with a product or service throughout its life-cycle. The life-cycle perspective and the consideration of a number of environmental issues enables identification of trade-offs, thus providing a robust framework for decision-support.

Implementation of the LCA at S4CE field sites

S4CE quantified the environmental impacts of two geothermal sites: Hellisheidi, a combined heat and power geothermal plant near Reykjavik, Iceland; and the United Downs Deep Geothermal Power (UDDGP) project that is under construction in Cornwall, United Kingdom. The software application builds upon knowledge and data that was gathered during these studies.

The LCA-based software application

The software application is highly flexible and was designed to be user-friendly. The user can select between a “full” and  “simplified” model, along with the type of geothermal plant of interest. For the “full” model, the user can also select between a “basic” and an “advanced” entry mode. The former gives access to a small number of the most significant parameters, whilst the “advanced” mode gives the user full control over all parameters of the model. In the case of heat and power co-generation, the user can also choose the appropriate allocation strategy for apportioning the environmental impacts between electricity and thermal energy. The estimates of the environmental impacts are reported as numerical values (which can be exported e.g. to an Excel spreadsheet) and in a graphical form.

What are the key features of the LCA software?

  • It includes detailed and validated life-cycle inventories;
  • It allows selection of environmental impact categories;
  • It can be used both retrospectively, to quantify the environmental performance of an existing plant, and prospectively, to predict the environmental impacts of a future plant;
  • It requires as a minimum only few operational parameters, which are expected to be available to geothermal companies;
  • It is user-friendly, especially for people not familiar with Life Cycle Assessment;
  • It is to be used by policymakers to support the development of energy policies and by geothermal companies designing and operating geothermal power plants.