Life Cycle Assessment of Wood-Plastic Composites (WPC)


The Commission of the European Communities released the lead market initiative for Europe in 2007 which considers Europe’s competitiveness for future markets based on an innovation-driven, sustainable economy. The assessment of environmental impacts and accounting for GHG emissions is since then driven with political support for industrial innovations towards a sustainable community.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) has been introduced since the early 1980s and was mostly a scientific approach for compiling and assessing the potential environmental impacts of products or systems. This method is standardized in the ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 (s. figure below) and is applied by a broad range of practitioners and industries globally (UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative, 2011). Based on this standard several other environmental impact methods have been established e.g. British Standard PAS 2050:2010, ISO 14025, EN 15084.


Framework for life cycle assessment (European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability, 2010 modified from ISO 14040:2006).

Field of study

Though LCA have been established over a long time in different kind of industries (automotive, wood, plastic etc.), scientific work is still needed to define system boundaries and allocation problems in detail.

The field of study will focus on those issues in the Wood Plastic Composite (WPC) industry. The complexity of wood and plastic production chains has to be considered. Wood composites derive from virgin and/or second materials where interesting conflicts (e.g. with bioenergy sector) and economical factors have to be considered. Basically, WPC consists of wood fibers or small wood particles (saw dust, wood flour), (thermo)plastics like Polyethylen, Polypropylen or PVC and additives like mineral fillers and coupling agents (Klyosov, 2006; Vogt et al., 2006).

The challenge will be to set the system boundaries for this complex industry. It is important to discuss methodological issues e.g. the geographical region, time horizon and the supply chain considering virgin and recycling content for production of WPC. These issues lead to considerations of allocation of environmental burdens which is not defined and standardized yet for this product. Although some standardizations like ISO 14025 and EN 15084 and calculation schemes for LCA, like Product Category Rules (PCRs) or the ILCD handbook, are trying to set up calculation rules for such concerns mentioned above, but they are still lacking the depth of detail for practical purpose.

It is hypothesized that there is a significant difference in the environmental performance of WPC if it is produced from virgin or recycled materials. A comparative LCA will be conducted to prove this hypothesis. Furthermore and as a major concern of this project, the recycling potential and alternatives to current end-of-life route (combustion) of WPC will be investigated and analyzed with the LCA methodology. It is also crucial to provide solution approaches for an environmentally sound product design e.g. Ecodesign and implementation strategies in business decision making processes that can be derived from LCA results.

During the project phase it will be essential to build up and keep a strong connection to the WPC production industry considering data acquisition for Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) and presenting Life Cycle Impact Assessment results (LCIA) to the stakeholders. The results will be published in relevant journals for the scientific community.

For further information please don’t hesitate to contact!

Philipp Sommerhuber
Thünen Institute of Wood Research




European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability (2010): International Reference Life Cycle Data System (ILCD) Handbook – General Guide for Life Cycle Assessment – Detailed Guidance. First edition March 2010. EUR 24708 EN. Luxembourg. Publications Office of the European Union.

Vogt D., Karus M., Ortmann S., Schmidt C., Gahle C. (2006): Wood-Plastic-Composites (WPC) Holz-Kunststoff-Verbundsstoffe. Märkte in Nordamerika, Japan und Europa mit Schwerpunkt auf Deutschland. Technische Eigenschaften – Anwendungsgebiete, Preise, Märkte, Akteure. Nova-Institut GmbH, Hürth.

Klyosov A. (2007): Wood-Plastic Composites. Johny Wiley & Sons Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.

UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle initiative (2011): Towards a Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment.