Journal Articles

Is the beneficial use of wood ash environmentally beneficial? A screening-level life cycle assessment and uncertainty analysis

June 03, 2020

Journal of Industrial Ecology 24(6):1300-1309

Caroline Gaudreault, Ilich Lama, and Derek Sain

In this paper, a screening-level life cycle assessment (LCA) approach is used to compare the potential environmental benefits and tradeoffs of different management options for wood ash, namely, agricultural land application, forest soil amendment, use in forest roads, use in concrete and mortar, and landfilling. Uncertainty analyses are used to evaluate the generalizability of the results obtained. Although decisions regarding the selection of a beneficial use option are site-specific and depend on available local markets and wood ash characteristics, this study shows that it is possible to draw a few general conclusions from the application of LCA. All beneficial use (BU) options showed lower environmental indicator scores than those associated with landfilling, in addition to net potential environmental benefits. From an environmental perspective, results suggest that, only in a few situations, beneficially using wood ash might not produce potential net environmental benefits but would still be preferred over landfilling, and in a very few cases, landfilling would be preferred over a BU option. For instance, net environmental benefits may be compromised if wood ash needs to be transported over long distances before it can be beneficially used. Out of the four BU options evaluated, the use of wood ash in concrete to replace Portland cement showed the greatest potential environmental benefits. However, the application of wood ash on agricultural or forest land showed greater environmental benefits than the use in concrete in cases where both its liming and fertilizing potentials are assumed to be achieved at the same time.

beneficial use, forest products, industrial ecology, life cycle assessment (LCA), uncertainty analysis, wood ash