Effects of Spatial Scale on Life Cycle Inventory Results

Yi Yang, Rylie E.O. Pelton, Taegon Kim, Timothy M. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Efforts to compile life cycle inventory (LCI) data at more geographically refined scales or resolutions are growing. However, it remains poorly understood as to how the choice of spatial scale may affect LCI results. Here, we examine this question using U.S. corn as a case study. We compile corn production data at two spatial scales, state and county, and compare how their LCI results may differ for state and national level analyses. For greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, estimates at the two scales are similar (<20% of difference) for most state-level analyses and are basically the same (<5%) for national level analysis. For blue water consumption, estimates at the two scales differ more. Our results suggest that state-level analyses may be an adequate spatial scale for national level GHG analysis and for most state-level GHG analyses of U.S. corn, but may fall short for water consumption, because of its large spatial variability. On the other hand, although county-based LCIs may be considered more accurate, they require substantially more effort to compile. Overall, our study suggests that the goal of a study, data requirements, and spatial variability are important factors to consider when deciding the appropriate spatial scale or pursuing more refined scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1293-1303
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 4 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Chemical Society.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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