Biogenic Carbon in LCA and Practice

Carbon Sequestration is an important aspect of bio-based materials in the scope of climate change mitigation. The carbon that is stored in wood, aka biogenic carbon, is often excluded from traditional LCA calculations under the carbon neutrality assumption which presumes that emissions lost from the harvest and use of trees will eventually be re-sequestered into future plant growth. While there is nothing wrong with this on a per mass basis, this perspective has recently been criticized for its static view in that it ignores the timing of emissions. Dynamic LCA’s offer one solution to provide more accurate readings of carbon sequestration in the production of engineered wood products as they do account for this temporal aspect. However, their added complexity makes them more challenging to perform.

One big influencing factor over the potential amount of biogenic carbon in forests is forest management. Aspects of forestry such as the length of stand rotations which correlate to tree size, and the level of harvest intensity which correlates to the number of trees, both guide total potential of carbon storage in forests. Sustainable forest management becomes evermore important under climate change as climate change brings about less desirable conditions for optimal carbon storage.

Wood product consumers also have influence over biogenic carbon potential as they create a large demand for wood products. This not only drives the success of the forest products industry but also shows that at some level, designers have influence over the way forests themselves are managed. That being said, a direct link is established between the designer and the forest. The role of architects in forest and carbon dynamics is also highlighted. My terminal project will look into the scale at which decisions made my designers influence available wood volume, associated biogenic carbon, and forest management practices. This will be done by showcasing one building design simulated under four design scenarios.

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