Energy Efficiency of Aquaculture: Life Cycle Assessment in Evaluating Sustainability

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is focuses on the lifecycle of products rather than organisms and can be used to assess environmental impacts associated with every stage of the product’s life from “cradle-to-grave”. SEAT researcher Patrik Henriksson is completing his PHD at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He is conducting LCAs to investigate the production and distribution of the different species and countries within the project. In the 2010, October-September, edition of the Global Aquaculture Alliances’ The Advocate magazine, Patrik explained how LCAs can be a useful tool in assessing the sustainability and future directions of aquaculture.

Food production, in common with other industries, has become addicted to cheap energy and the largest energy investments are made in the production of protein-rich produce (such as meat and dairy). Energy intensity is not only a good indicator of how environmental sound (or unsound) a system is, but also, the vulnerability of the system to fluctuations in energy markets.

Aquaculture presents itself as a promising alternative to capture fisheries (today, more than half the seafood eaten globally is farmed) and livestock production. This is highly dependent, however, on the path the rapidly developing, industry takes. LCA allows the evaluations of several environmental impacts to be managed within a single framework. These impacts may include global warming, water use, land use and/or depletion of fossil energy. By looking across the whole value-chain (product’s life cycle) and using LCA, you can assess where “hotspots” of unsustainability occur and which aspects of production require the most energy. Within aquaculture systems, feed production is commonly the major energy consuming practice in finfish and crustacean culture, yet for filter feeders the transportation, infrastructure and processing are usually the most energy-intensive stages.

Previously the tool has been used to show that closed-systems motivated by environmental concerns (such as, eutrophication, disease/parasite risks and escapes etc) can result in larger energy-dependency and green house gas emissions. LCAs help to use a broad system-wide approach to cover all areas of concern and investigate interlinks to consider the true consequences of the whole production chain before making decisions.

You can read the article in full on the Global Aquaculture Alliance website here (pages 42-44).

Photo © Loni Hensler