Dynamic Modelling of Material Flows and Sustainable Resource Use: Case Studies in Regional Metabolism and Space Life Support Systems


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PhD thesis: a PhD thesis.
Dynamic Modelling of Material Flows and Sustainable Resource Use: Case Studies in Regional Metabolism and Space Life Support Systems
Suomalainen E.
Erkman  S.
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Université de Lausanne, Faculté des géosciences et de l'environnement
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Sustainable resource use is one of the most important environmental issues of our times. It is closely related to discussions on the 'peaking' of various natural resources serving as energy sources, agricultural nutrients, or metals indispensable in high-technology applications. Although the peaking theory remains controversial, it is commonly recognized that a more sustainable use of resources would alleviate negative environmental impacts related to resource use.
In this thesis, sustainable resource use is analysed from a practical standpoint, through several different case studies. Four of these case studies relate to resource metabolism in the Canton of Geneva in Switzerland: the aim was to model the evolution of chosen resource stocks and flows in the coming decades. The studied resources were copper (a bulk metal), phosphorus (a vital agricultural nutrient), and wood (a renewable resource). In addition, the case of lithium (a critical metal) was analysed briefly in a qualitative manner and in an electric mobility perspective.
In addition to the Geneva case studies, this thesis includes a case study on the sustainability of space life support systems. Space life support systems are systems whose aim is to provide the crew of a spacecraft with the necessary metabolic consumables over the course of a mission. Sustainability was again analysed from a resource use perspective. In this case study, the functioning of two different types of life support systems, ARES and BIORAT, were evaluated and compared; these systems represent, respectively, physico-chemical and biological life support systems. Space life support systems could in fact be used as a kind of 'laboratory of sustainability' given that they represent closed and relatively simple systems compared to complex and open terrestrial systems such as the Canton of Geneva.
The chosen analysis method used in the Geneva case studies was dynamic material flow analysis: dynamic material flow models were constructed for the resources copper, phosphorus, and wood. Besides a baseline scenario, various alternative scenarios (notably involving increased recycling) were also examined. In the case of space life support systems, the methodology of material flow analysis was also employed, but as the data available on the dynamic behaviour of the systems was insufficient, only static simulations could be performed.
The results of the case studies in the Canton of Geneva show the following: were resource use to follow population growth, resource consumption would be multiplied by nearly 1.2 by 2030 and by 1.5 by 2080. A complete transition to electric mobility would be expected to only slightly (+5%) increase the copper consumption per capita while the lithium demand in cars would increase 350 fold. For example, phosphorus imports could be decreased by recycling sewage sludge or human urine; however, the health and environmental impacts of these options have yet to be studied. Increasing the wood production in the Canton would not significantly decrease the dependence on wood imports as the Canton's production represents only 5% of total consumption.
In the comparison of space life support systems ARES and BIORAT, BIORAT outperforms ARES in resource use but not in energy use. However, as the systems are dimensioned very differently, it remains questionable whether they can be compared outright.
In conclusion, the use of dynamic material flow analysis can provide useful information for policy makers and strategic decision-making; however, uncertainty in reference data greatly influences the precision of the results. Space life support systems constitute an extreme case of resource-using systems; nevertheless, it is not clear how their example could be of immediate use to terrestrial systems.
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04/12/2012 14:43
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20/08/2019 17:06
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