Ecoinvent elementary flows


Authority: Info Info

Provenance: Ecoinvent

Data within the ecoinvent database are grouped into entities called Elementary flows. These are the flows of pollutants and resources between the technosphere and nature. More specifically they describe (a) the material or energy entering the system being studied, which has been drawn from the environment without previous human transformation and (b) material or energy leaving the system being studied, which is discarded into the environment without subsequent human transformation

Within the ecoinvent database they are identified by a human readable flow name (e.g. “Carbon dioxide, fossil”), a category and a subcategory.

Categories describe the different environmental compartments like soil and water and subcategories further distinguish relevant subcompartments within these compartments. They are grouped as follows:

Category SubCategory Definition
Air low population density Emissions in areas without settlements or protected areas in the direct surrounding
Air low population density, Longterm Emissions which take place in the future, 100 years after the start of the process.
Air lower stratosphere + upper troposphere Emissions from aeroplanes and space shuttles.
Air high population density Emissions in densly populated areas.
Air unspecified -
Resource in air Resources in air, e.g. Argon
Resource biotic Biogenic Resource, e.g. wood
Resource in ground Resource in soil e.g. ores, but also for landfill volume
Resource Land Land occupation and transformation
Resource in water Resource in water, e.g. magnesium
Soil Agricultural Emission to soil which are used for the production of food and fodder
Soil forestry Emission to soils used for plant production (forest, renewable raw materials) which do not enter the human food chain directly.
Soil industrial Emission to soils used for industry, manufacturing, waste management and infrastructure.
Soil unspecified -
Water ground- Ground water which will get in contact with the biosphere after some time.
Water ground-, longterm Emissions which take place in the future, 100 years after the start of the process.
Water Lake Lakes with fresh water
Water Ocean Ocean, sea and salty lakes.
Water River Rivers
Water unspecified -

Elementary flow factors

The ecoinvent database offers life cycle inventory (LCI) and life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) results. LCIA methods normally assign a factor known as an Impact factor to each elementary flow in an inventory table. The ecoinvent Centre refer to these as elementary flow factors. There are different types of factors, which are described below.

Characterisation factor The importance of single flows relative to a specific basic flow is characterised by a factor, e.g. global warming potential of greenhouse gases relative to CO2.
Normalized factor Another factor, e.g. a characterisation factor, is normalized by division through the total sum of the characterised flows in a certain area and within a certain time.
Weighted (…) factor A weighting is applied to the characterised or normalised results from different categories in order to calculate a final score.
Damage factor The possible damage due to an emission is described with a factor. This can include a modelling for the environmental fate, a characterisation of the substances and a final weighting.

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