NPLK14004U Life Cycle Assessment within Biological Production Systems

Volume 2024/2025

MSc Programme in Agriculture
MSc Programme in  Environmental Science

MSc Programme in Global Environment and Development


Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a multi-disciplinary methodology used to assess the sustainability of a product. This could be anything from tomatoes to a complete diet or a biofuel.

LCA is done by quantifying the potential environmental impacts associated with the production of the product. These potential impacts can then be compared with alternative options.

The methodology is increasingly applied as an aid for political decision making and knowledge about the methodology is therefore highly relevant to students interested in environmental science and management.

The course covers general LCA theory:
1. Goal and scope definition
2. Inventory analysis
3. Life impact assessment
4. Interpretation of results

This includes important subjects like definition of functional unit, system boundary delimitation, allocation, system expansion, circular production, change-oriented versus accounting LCA, consequential versus attributional modeling. Impact assessment methodology and sensitivity analysis.

Special emphasis will be given to various environmental and resource conservation problems that arise in conjunction with products of biological production systems (e.g. crop production, bioenergy, animal production, aquaculture, waste management, fermentation). The students are also introduced to the concept of cost benefit analysis (CBA) and illustrative examples of CBA based on value transfer will be given.

Learning Outcome

The objective of the course is to teach the students the theory behind, and to gain experience with applying life cycle assessment. The course will teach the students the basic principles for conducting an life cycle assessments and give them experience with the methodology to allow them to compare the environmental performance of different alternative products.

Upon completion of the course, the students should be able to:

- Identify major environmental impacts of biological production systems - Show overview of the theory of life cycle assessment (LCA)
- Outline the definition of scope, goal, inventory analysis and impact assessment - Describe how LCA can be used for improving production systems
- Summarize the transfer of LCA results to economic cost-benefit analysis (CBA)
- Describe alternative environmental assessment tools and their applicability

- Use LCA software and apply it to practical cases
- Apply LCA on different kinds of products of biological production systems - Analyse factors that influence the environmental impact of biological systems directly or indirectly
- Assess and relate critically to the conclusions of LCA reports

- Discuss environmental problems associated with biological production systems
- Present an understanding of potential consequences of the results of an LCA
- Suggest improvements to biological production systems in terms of environmental impact with the aid of LCA
- Link LCA-outcomes with the CBA of economists and discuss the implications of this.

Course material consists of a textbook introducing the general theory. In addition, illustrateive papers used and journal clubs will be part of the curricullum as well as notes on CBA which will be distributed during the course.

Basic background in natural and environmental science
The course is divided in two major parts:

1. Introduction to the theory, principles and application of LCA;
2. Use of the acquired LCA competences in case-studies.

In the first part, the general theory of life cycle assessment will be presented in the form of lectures and exercises and the students will be acquainted with life cycle thinking. In addition, the students will get hand-on experience with LCA software and acquainted with the possibilities of its use through exercises. A case study and several small exercises will illustrate the principles relevant to biological production systems such as land use, eutrophication, global warming etc.

In the second part the students will conduct a more realistic case. An expert in the area will act as a client requesting a LCA, while the student will act as LCA experts carrying out the assessment. This will be done in study groups, but the students will each write an individual discussion of the results. This case will serve to illustrate some of the practical problems with LCA in more detail and train the use of LCA software. In addition, journals clubs will be arranged where relevant LCA studies are discussed as illustrative examples of how to conduct LCA studies and how to report them.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 39
  • Preparation
  • 44
  • Exercises
  • 30
  • Project work
  • 93
  • Total
  • 206

Feedback through discussions during the group work on cases and  written feedback on case 1 report.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination, 20 min.
Written assignment
Type of assessment details
The oral exam consists a 20 min oral examination without preparation time. Oral examination is weighted 60%.
The written assignment - the individual discussion of case 2 - is weighted 40%.
An overall assessment of the individual discussion and oral examination is made and one grade is given.
Exam registration requirements

Two group reports (case 1 and case 2) made during the course must be approved.


All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
One internal examiner

As the ordinary exam.

Prerequisites for reexamination: the two group reports must be handed in and approved at least two weeks before the reexamination (if the reports were approved before the ordinary exam this prerequisite is met). The individual discussion of case 2 (can be revised after the ordinary exam) must be submitted at least two weeks before the reexamination.

Criteria for exam assesment

The assessment is based on the fulfillment of the learning outcome for the course in relation to the criteria in the 7-scale grading system