Life cycle assessment of polyphenols extraction processes from waste biomass

Sci Rep. 2020 Aug 12;10(1):13632. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-70587-w.


Waste biomass from forestry and wood processing industries is a source to obtain fine chemicals, and its processing is a good example of circular economy, but it generates secondary environmental impacts. The main objective of this study was to analyse the environmental performances of laboratory scale processes for polyphenols extraction from spruce bark by means of life cycle assessment (LCA) and to simulate and evaluate the scale-up possibilities of the most favourable alternative. The assessed extraction processes were: a classic Soxhlet extraction using ethanol as solvent (SE), a high-temperature extraction in 1% NaOH solution (NaOH-SLE) and an ultrasound assisted extraction process (UAE). The functional unit was 1 mg of extracted polyphenols, measured as gallic acid equivalents (mg GAE)/g spruce bark. The life cycle inventory has included specific laboratory scale operations and extraction processes (infrastructure and transport processes were not considered). Life cycle impact assessment was performed with ReCipe 2016 at midpoint. For all extraction processes, the environmental profiles were dominated by the electricity use for heating and this has generated the highest impacts in most of the impact categories, followed by the production and use of ethanol as solvent. For the ultrasound assisted extraction, a scale-up scenario has proven that by raising capacity to a 30 L extraction vessel and by changing the heating source to a biomass-fired boiler, environmental impacts may be greatly diminished. The paper discusses also the uncertainty of lab-scale generated data for LCA. A sensitivity analysis has proven that for this case, the energy efficiency of different lab-scale equipment induce acceptable degrees of uncertainty for the LCA results.