Lesson #5: Systems & LCA

Systems and LCASystems and Life Cycle Analysis

Background and Overview:  An essential component of higher order thinking is the ability to think in terms of “systems”—to understand a whole in terms of its parts and to analyze those parts in terms of how they relate to one another and to the whole.   Examining systems is really a way of thinking about how the world works.  The main goal in teaching systems thinking, then, is to enhance a student’s ability to recognize and to analyze interconnections within any complex endeavor.    In Maine, “Systems” is a new section within the revised statewide Science Learning Results Parameters for Essential Instruction:  Standard A.  Unifying Themes, (A1) “Systems”.     This lesson uses the Forest Bioproducts Research Initiative (FBRI) as a context for developing systems thinking at the middle and high school levels, and it enhances understanding of the FBRI initiative in the larger context of the environmental, economic and social world within which it exists.

 A pre-requisite is that students should be familiar with the basic vision and goals of FBRI, and have at least a general awareness of research and development to create a commercial biorefinery.  Other states have biorefinery research projects, but Maine’s emphasis on integrating this manufacturing system within an existing pulp and paper production facility is unique and lends itself well to systems thinking.   

Of particular relevance are the following, extracted from FBRI’s website:
FBRI Theme C:  Create and commercialize new bioproducts
FBRI Goal:  Turn wood components into bioproducts
Research Question:  How would one design and operate a flexible system (an integrated biorefinery) that can easily make different bioproducts?  
o    The plan is to extract 10% of material during a change of state within the traditional pulp production process and then ferment that material (hemicellulose) to make ethanol, acetic acid and other valuable products.  
o    Extracting these chemicals may benefit the traditional pulping process in that it leads to an improvement in the quality of the pulp.
o    Of significance in the larger context of Maine’s forest products industry; this integrated system requires minimal additional wood in order to incorporate value-added production to the existing mill.   

An introduction to FBRI is provided in Lesson #2, Activity 3.  Some handouts and tools from that lesson are also used here.  

Students will begin by outlining together a familiar system and then a simplified version of a traditional pulp and paper production facility.   They will define the system’s purpose and boundaries and then diagram properties--its parts as well as its inputs, outputs and basic interactions.  

Understanding “systems” also involves analyzing them once they have been defined.  Activity 2 introduces students to a process called “Life Cycle Analysis” (LCA), which analyzes the inputs and outputs, the costs and benefits of manufacturing systems within a larger world context in order to make decisions about improvements or changes.    With LCA in mind, students use reference documents as background to redesign their basic pulp mill diagram and to analyze both the economic and environmental sustainability of adding an integrated biorefinery.  

Finally, students reflect on the value of systems thinking as a way of understanding the complexities in any human endeavor.  

Image: Systems and LCA

Download All Materials for Lesson #5 or the following sections:

LESSON OUTLINE--Directions for Teachers DOC PDF
Student Handout #1--Integrating A Biorefinery into a Pulp Mill DOC PDF
Student Handout #2--Analysis of an Integrated Biorefinery  DOC PDF
Student Handout #3--Graphic Organizer-Evidence Chart DOC PDF
Student Handout #4--The Big 6 DOC PDF
Student Handout #5--Document Packet DOC PDF
Teacher Handout #1--Basic Pulp Mill System DOC PDF
Teacher Handout #2--Basic Pulp Mill System with Added Systems DOC PDF
Teacher Handout #3--Basic Biorefinery Diagram DOC PDF
Teacher Handout #4--Brainstorm Suggestions DOC PDF
Teacher Handout #5--Document Packet Guide DOC PDF
Teacher Handout #6--Life Cycle Assessment Resources DOC PDF
Introduction to Life Cycle Analysis Powerpoint PPT ZIP