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Life cycle assessment

James Stone, Civil and Environmental Engineering, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology


This course will provide an introduction to life cycle assessment (LCA) modeling for students within various science and engineering degree programs at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. LCA data and models are used to determine environmental impacts associated with materials, products and services.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs

Course Context:

This is a new course component (1/3 semester, remainder taught by another instructor) that will be taught for the first time this Fall term. This course serves as a technical elective for all engineering undergraduate and graduate students, and is required as part of a sustainable engineering minor program

Course Content:

Each week the course will focus on the framework and methodology of LCA, including background and application, goal and scope definition, inventory analysis, data sources, impacts assessment, and interpretation. The students will complete a term design project during the course where each week a component of the project will be due that addresses one of the LCA components above. Final presentations will be required where they present their overall findings to different audiences, such as the general public, policy makers, or industry.

Course Goals:

After completing this course, students will be able to:
- Describe the principle components of an LCA model
- Determine the life cycle impacts of various goods and services
- Communicate the importance of life cycle impacts to the general public, policy makers, and industry.

Course Features:

Each student must complete a final project (oral and written components) that summarizes the life cycle impacts of a good or service of their choice. The project consists of goal and scope definition, comprehensive inventory analysis, impacts assessment, and results interpretation to a pre-selected audience. Students are encourages to select a project that is either relevant to their research area, or of personal interest.

Course Philosophy:

A life cycle assessment provides a holistic view of the environmental impacts associated with a product or process from a "cradle to grave" perspective following international standards developed by the International Organization for Standardization, ISO (e.g., ISO 14040:2006 and ISO 14044:2006). Mandates requiring LCA evaluations are becoming increasingly common within state governments and industries for the promotion of sustainability. LCA methodology has historically been developed to provide a comprehensive environmental evaluation of a product or system. The students will develop a LCA project and will be required to identify "triple bottom line" criteria from their findings that address economic, environment, and societal implications of their selected good or service. The course experience will be very helpful for the students as they enter their profession as most engineering employers are actively integrating or addressing sustainability mandates within their respective marketplace.


Students will be assessed on the basis of their weekly writing assignments (incremental progress on their LCA modeling; 50%), class participation (10%), and final project (30%), and quizzes (10%).


References and Notes: