Model uncertainty analysis using data analytics for life-cycle assessment (LCA) applications

Mojtaba Ziyadi, Imad L. Al-Qadi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Objective uncertainty quantification (UQ) of a product life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a critical step for decision-making. Environmental impacts can be measured directly or by using models. Underlying mathematical functions describe a model that approximate the environmental impacts during various LCA stages. In this study, three possible uncertainty sources of a mathematical model, i.e., input variability, model parameter (differentiate from input in this study), and model-form uncertainties, were investigated. A simple and easy to implement method is proposed to quantify each source. Methods: Various data analytics methods were used to conduct a thorough model uncertainty analysis; (1) Interval analysis was used for input uncertainty quantification. A direct sampling using Monte Carlo (MC) simulation was used for interval analysis, and results were compared to that of indirect nonlinear optimization as an alternative approach. A machine learning surrogate model was developed to perform direct MC sampling as well as indirect nonlinear optimization. (2) A Bayesian inference was adopted to quantify parameter uncertainty. (3) A recently introduced model correction method based on orthogonal polynomial basis functions was used to evaluate the model-form uncertainty. The methods are applied to a pavement LCA to propagate uncertainties throughout an energy and global warming potential (GWP) estimation model; a case of a pavement section in Chicago metropolitan area was used. Results and discussion: Results indicate that each uncertainty source contributes to the overall energy and GWP output of the LCA. Input uncertainty was shown to have significant impact on overall GWP output; for the example case study, GWP interval was around 50%. Parameter uncertainty results showed that an assumption of ± 10% uniform variation in the model parameter priors resulted in 28% variation in the GWP output. Model-form uncertainty had the lowest impact (less than 10% variation in the GWP). This is because the original energy model is relatively accurate in estimating the energy. However, sensitivity of the model-form uncertainty showed that even up to 180% variation in the results can be achieved due to lower original model accuracies. Conclusions: Investigating each uncertainty source of the model indicated the importance of the accurate characterization, propagation, and quantification of uncertainty. The outcome of this study proposed independent and relatively easy to implement methods that provide robust grounds for objective model uncertainty analysis for LCA applications. Assumptions on inputs, parameter distributions, and model form need to be justified. Input uncertainty plays a key role in overall pavement LCA output. The proposed model correction method as well as interval analysis were relatively easy to implement. Research is still needed to develop a more generic and simplified MCMC simulation procedure that is fast to implement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)945-959
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2019


  • Bayesian inference
  • Data analytics
  • Impact assessment
  • Life-cycle assessment
  • Model correction
  • Model uncertainty
  • Uncertainty quantification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)


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