Of the more than 84,000 chemicals available on US markets, only approximately 500 of them have published life cycle inventory data – the information necessary for life cycle assessment (LCA) practitioners to calculate these chemicals’ impact on the environment as they are produced, consumed and disposed of. With less than 1% of the total inventory of chemicals available on the market documented by their producers, LCA practitioners most often have to do the work themselves, a daunting task for anyone without a background in chemical engineering. To combat this problem, PhD candidate Abhijeet Parvatker is hard at work developing new methodologies that practitioners can use to generate accurate life cycle inventory data without the assistance of a chemical engineer.
“The first project I did at Northeastern was a review of the different methodologies that are used by LCA practitioners to fill that gap right now,” he explains, “The idea was to understand the implications of using these different methods on the LCA results; whether it be greenhouse gas emissions, eco-toxicity, acidification potential or final environmental impacts.”
“This project sounds kind of obvious, but nobody had done this before, nobody had looked at all the different methods used and quantified the differences in the final results. The more design-focused methods provided accurate information, but had large data requirements or required a large amount of time to compile the necessary data; other more shortcut-focused methodologies were faster but we found, for example, that using the shortcut methods could sway the results by 50-80%, so that was a big finding.”
He continues, “What we are trying to do is find a middle ground, to develop methodologies for generating accurate life cycle inventory data rapidly. We identified the methods that gave more accurate results for the life cycle impact assessment and expanded on them, developing a streamlined framework to allow people to apply them to their own datasets.”
Parvatker and his fellow researchers have since published their work, making it available to the larger LCA community. “This way, someone with certain data can look at the method, feed in their data and actually generate their own results,” he explains.
Since then, Parvatker has done extensive work in collaboration with the Yale School of Medicine, providing life-cycle analysis of inhaled versus injected anesthetics. Over the course of this work, he and his fellow researchers produced over 20 assessments, doubling the existing library of publicly available life-cycle inventories in the pharmaceutical industry.
With his background in LCA and the chemicals sector, Parvatker carried out a project in the Sustainability team at Wayfair to develop their first Chemical Management Policy intended to identify and eliminate hazardous and toxic chemicals their product value-chains. This was part of the LEADERs program offered by the PhD Network and the Gordon Institute of Engineering Leadership. Regarding this experience, Parvatker notes, “The mix of classroom learning in developing leadership and project managements skills and implementing them in a research project in a corporate environment was a valuable experience. This helped me understand the kind of industry roles and the career path I wanted to take after my PhD. The experience helped me get my current role as a LCA consultant with Sphera, where I intend to continue to apply my research to help organizations achieve their sustainability goals.”