Making an LCA in 1 Hour – How to Get Going with Umberto

Written by Moritz Bühner   // September 19, 2013    1 Comment

SimaPro and GaBi are the most commonly used software tools to conduct a professional life cycle assessment. There is, however, a third solution in this field, one that is capable of not only calculating product life cycles, but also modeling and improving entire production systems. That integrative solution is called Umberto. While Umberto’s extensive feature list may have initially confused some practitioners in the past, and the interface was sometimes deemed unintuitively technical, let me convince you in this article that the opposite is the actual case now. Especially since the launch of the newest NXT versions, Umberto usability is leaps and bounds ahead of the original, science-derived format. I’ll show you that it now takes not more than one hour to understand the basics and to make your first simple model. You need neither an engineering degree, nor to be an IT geek. All it takes is a computer running a Windows operating system and a small slice of technical common sense.

This tutorial is a concrete guide to working with Umberto. If you are new to material flow modeling and haven’t yet completely understood what this whole life cycle thing is about, you’ll probably enjoy flipping through the blog article How Life Cycle Assessment with LCA Software Works and you might also benefit from understanding Material Flow Based Process Systems Engineering. Why exactly would that be a good idea? Because there are countless examples of how the material flow approach helps not only to assess life cycle related emissions and systematically improve environmental performance, but also to harvest the full potential of efficient manufacturing. Articles on efficient climate control at SWU and more optimization topics shed light on real-life cases. For LCA related uses, check out the article on PVC recycling or red wine carbon footprints. Intrigued?

Download, Install, Create New Project

To start using the free trial of the LCA version, register here and download Umberto NXT LCA. It weighs less than 70 MB and installation is straight-forward. If, instead of trying it on your own, you prefer to watch a professional user show what Umberto is capable of and would like to ask him or her specific questions, you might like to attend one of the web demos that are delivered on a regular basis and are also free. Find the web demo schedule here.

Assuming you successfully downloaded and started the program, you’ll be confronted with a box to enter a serial key. Leave it blank and click OK to start the trial. Next, open the first of three PDF tutorials, at the bottom right of the splash screen. The 24-page-long document gives you a lot more background knowledge that can be quite handy than this rather brief blog article.

Link to tutorial PDF at Umberto start highlighted in yellow

Umberto splash screen at program start: link to PDF tutorial is highlighted in yellow in this screenshot.

Create a new project by choosing File/New/Project and enter a file name. You’re now seeing the “Model” window. It is covered with dots that form a grid. This vast space is where you’ll draw your model. If Umberto were an art class, this window would be your piece of paper. If I were your teacher, I’d now order you to be creative.

Create Process and Inputs

But don’t worry, since we’re just setting up a computer simulation, clicking on the “Add Process” button will suffice for now. In the model toolbar, it is the second button from the left:

“Add Process” button: The one with the square symbol, highlighted in yellow

“Add Process” button: the second one from the left (with the square symbol).

This square symbol is the button of choice to make new processes, or transitions, as they used to be called in former versions and in scientific concepts of material flow analysis. Please click on this button first and then anywhere on the white space of the model window. Congratulations, you have just created your first transition. A transition, visualized by a square or rectangle symbol, represents a process. Our new transition bears the name T1, which is quite a sad name and pretty anonymous, so let’s give it a real name. In our example, the model we’re creating is a simplified version of polyethylene production, a common plastic with the abbreviation PE. By clicking on the process name next to the square symbol (“T1”), and then double clicking, a blinking text editing thingy shows up. To name the process, type “PE production” or something similar and then click somewhere else.

Already, we have created the most simple form of a model. But wait a second. Of what use is a model that contains only one process, without any inputs and no outputs? You’re right! It’s pretty pointless. So let’s change this right away. We’ll add two inputs and one output, better sooner than later.

To keep it simple, let’s call the first input “raw materials” and the second one “auxiliary materials”. Press the “Add Input” button in the model toolbar, the one with the green circle.

“Add Input” button with green circle

“Add Input” button with green circle.

Let’s draw the first input by clicking somewhere on the dotted space next to the transition. You can name the new input just like you did the “PE production” process. Click on “P1”, now double click on “P1” and type “raw materials”. Next, add the second input (green circle button and a click on the model space again) and call it “auxiliary material”.

If your model shows a vague similarity to this screenshot, you’re on the right track:

One process (blue) and two inputs (green)

Two inputs (green) and a process (blue).

Next up, we’ll create an output called “PE granules”. The way to do it is exactly the same as for the inputs, with the only difference now being that you press the red button instead of the green one. The red circle button is used to add outputs to the model. You can drag and drop these input and output places and the transitions anytime you wish to change their positions in the model. You can also drag and drop the names. Play around until it looks nice.

Draw Material Flow Arrows

Now, our model boasts of three places and one process. What else does a material flow model need? Flows, of course! To connect the symbols with each other, we create three flows. One from each input to the process, and one from the process to the output. Select the following button from the model toolbar:

Button to “Draw arrow between net elements”

Third button from left: “Draw arrow between net elements”.

After pressing the arrow button, hover over an input, the green “raw materials” circle for instance, and as the circle turns gray, press the left mouse button and keep it pressed. Drag the arrow to the blue process symbol. Hovering there will make that symbol turn gray, too. Now release the mouse. Congratulations, that’s your first material flow! (Didn’t quite get that? Well, you are in “arrow drawing” mode, because you selected the “Draw Arrow” button. Now imagine you’re moving the input (green circle) to the process (blue square) using drag & drop, as shown in the following screenshot. That’s how you draw an arrow that automatically connects.)

How to draw an arrow: Click arrow button and drag the green circle into the blue square, or as LCA experts put it, connect the input place to the process transition

How to draw an arrow: Click arrow button and drag the green circle to the blue square. By doing so, you connect the input place to the process place with a material flow.

We clearly need two more arrows, one from the second input to the process and another from the process to the output.

Well done. If you move the symbols around, you will see that the arrows automatically adjust. In case they don’t, never mind, something went wrong when drawing the arrows. Just select the arrow, delete it, and draw a new one, this time paying a little more attention to the symbols turning gray.

So far, our model consists of two inputs that lead to a process that, in turn, leads to an output. By now it should look something like this:

model

Basic model: two inputs, one process, one output, connected by material flow arrows.

Does it? Nice!

Add Material

Next up, we feed our model more information on the necessary materials to produce PE. As you can imagine, “raw” and “auxiliary materials” are fairly unspecific, even more so when taking into consideration the claims of sophisticated modeling made by the life cycle assessment approach. Still, to suit the needs of this tutorial, the following rough simplification makes sense. Let’s say that making of PE granulate requires only three input “materials”: crude oil, natural gas and electricity. There are two ways to get these materials into our model. First, we can search for them in the extensive database that comes with Umberto NXT LCA. That database is called ecoinvent 3. You can browse through it in the project explorer (top left corner). To find a material or an activity in the database, type your search term, e.g. “natural gas”, in the project explorer’s search field and click the filter button, as highlighted in the following screenshot.

Search results for "natural gas" in ecoinvent database

Search results for “natural gas” in Umberto NXT LCA’s ecoinvent database.

However, the results for natural gas materials in the exchanges menu are countless. Finding exactly the right material for our example would exceed our tutorial’s scope, so we choose method number two and add a material manually. We just call it plain “natural gas”. Let’s press the New Material button, a triangle with a small green plus, found in the tool bar at the top of the project explorer window:

new-material

In the center of the Poject Explorer tool bar: the new material button.

In the properties window, which pops up at the bottom left corner, type the new material’s name and give it a suitable color. Automatically, each material has a different color, which becomes apparent in the sankey diagram view that we’ll explore further on.

Defining name and color for the newly created material in the properties window

Defining name and color for the newly created material in the properties window.

We can add as many materials as we want. We can also add energy, which, for reasons known only to programmers, is also treated as a material in Umberto. When you add the so-called material “electricity”, don’t forget to tell Umberto that electricity is measured in kJ, not in kg. Just like a material’s name and color, its unit is defined in the properties window at the bottom left:

Unit definition in Properties window

Unit definition for a new material in the properties window.

Once you’ve added crude oil, natural gas and electricity, you’ll see these materials show up automatically in the project materials list, with a little green triangle. Look at the project materials folder at the top left, in the project explorer. Found it? Now that you have all necessary input materials, you can start to think about how to specify the process calculation. When you click on the process (the blue square symbol in the model field), you’ll discover two columns appear at the bottom window. The left column lists all relevant inputs, the right one the outputs.

But this is much more than a list. It is the specification of the process, the model’s heart. Let’s add the three materials we’ve just created to the input side. Just drag and drop each material from the project explorer window into the input column, as shown here. Note that the process has to be selected for the specification window to work:

Dragging materials to process specification window to add them as input

Dragging materials to process specification window to add them as input.

Add all three materials to the process’s input list. Good job.

Set Material Connections

The right column is for the outputs. Oh, well, yes, although we have added an output place, the red circle, we haven’t yet added an output material. Luckily, you know how to do that already, so let’s get it done quickly (it’s the gray little triangle with the little green plus in the project explorer). We’ll call the new material PE granules and add it to the list of the process specs. And as before, we drag the material from the project explorer and drop it in the specification window, only this time, we put it in the output list, the right column. An alternative way to add materials to the process specification, be it as in- or as output, is to press the “Add” button below the list. The window that opens gives you free choice to manually add materials at the top of the list, followed by all options from the ecoinvent database. By the way, for some background information on ecoinvent, check out the Swiss Army Knife of LCA Background Databases.

After pressing the "Add" button in the process specification window, you can choose which materials to add, both from the manually added materials as well as from the database

After pressing the “Add” button in the process specification window, you can choose which materials to add, both from the manually added materials and from the database.

Two more steps are required for Umberto to know how the materials that we added to the lists interact. First – the easy part – where they come from and where they go. Second, in what quantities and proportions they’re transformed. As we’re still in the specification window, you might wonder why the “Place” column only displays three question marks for each material (“???”). The answer is easy: because the process doesn’t know yet from which place the materials flow. We haven’t specified that yet. Just click on the question marks to do so, to set the respective origin and destination for each material. Crude oil and natural gas are raw materials; they flow from P1:

Select the material's origin, "P1" in this case

Selecting each material’s origin and destination: in our process, “P1” is the origin of crude oil.

Electricity is treated as auxiliary material in this example, so select P2 for electricity. The output goes to P3. Easy, wasn’t it? A bit more complicated is how much input creates how much output. As I said, the process lies at the heart of the model. Umberto’s strong point is how flexibly a process can be defined. So what we’ll do, for the sake of keeping it simple, is take a linear specification. So and so much input will generate so and so much output – no scale effects, no dynamic interactions, nothing difficult. In reality, however, no production system quite follows a linear path. That’s why you can also specify Umberto’s processes in four other ways: by almost any mathematical formula, by computer code, with a subnet (a model within a process, see tutorial 3 [Help/Tutorials/…Advanced]), or by loading a predefined process from the module gallery. In our case, we’ll just assume that it takes the same amount of input for each entity we produce, whether we make one kg or thousands of tons of PE granules. After defining some fantasy figures for the coefficients, let’s say 1.1kg crude oil, 0.4 kg natural gas and 1800kJ electricity to give 1 kg of PE granules, we’re almost ready for the calculation. Once you’re getting more familiar with Umberto and are striving for a more precise model (which probably will be the case right after completing this tutorial), you can enter real figures from accounting or from controlling, or from whatever source you wish. You don’t need to calculate the coefficient, just enter the plain numbers, Umberto will do the rest. Did you watch your clock? Wasn’t that difficult, was it?

Calculate!

Well, there is one last task to fulfill before doing the calculation. This is called setting the manual flow. We’re basically telling Umberto the quantity for which we would like to see the results. That can be the functional unit of the LCA, e.g., one kg of PE granules, or the entire annual production of the process we modeled. Click on the arrow that leads to the red PE granules output place. The window at the bottom of the program will now display the arrow specifications, similar to the process specs we dealt with before. Let’s add “PE granules” to the specs. Like the process materials, we can either add a material to the arrow specs by drag and drop (move the PE granules from the project materials (project explorer window) into the arrow specification window), or by clicking the green plus button below the specifications and selecting PE granules from the list. In the quantity column, enter 1 kg. Note how the arrow turns from gray to purple, indicating that this arrow now contains the manual flow. That’s it! We can calculate the model!

Next to the calculator symbol (in the model toolbar) there is a tiny black triangle. Pushing it will give you a choice of possible calculations. “Total flows” is what we need:

Almost done: it's calculator button time

Almost done: it’s calculator button time!

Umberto now calculates results from our model, which shouldn’t take any longer than a few milliseconds. When that is done, try clicking the model toolbar button that looks like a little flag. This is the button that toggles the Sankey diagram view:

Button to toggle sankey diagram view

Sankey diagram view button.

If you followed the instructions thoroughly, your model will look something like this.

Model after calculation, in sankey view

Model after calculation, in sankey view.

Mind, I tweaked the looks by playing around with the color and the angle of the labels, and I slightly changed the arrow properties, too. Click an arrow or a text label and explore the possibilities in the properties window at the bottom left. Concerning the arrows, try ticking “Rounded”, and set the curviness to at least 50 px for a much smoother looking model in Sankey view. We should never underestimate the importance of aesthetics in information transfer – elegant sankey diagrams are powerful tools.

Congratulations for your first material flow model! You’re getting very close to obtaining real results with more precise models. Just dive into the tutorials shipped with the program, sign up for a free online demo delivered by an expert or check out the forum or the downloads, accessible via Umberto’s help menu or the links below.

Direct links to Umberto downloads and user forum

Direct links to Umberto downloads and user forum.

With the modeling skills that you’re now familiar with, you can easily work through Tutorial 2 and grasp all the necessary information needed to use the database and understand impact assessment, the soul of LCA, the thing that makes life cycle assessment such an interesting method.

Welcome to the club and happy life cycling!

Links

Article image CC by Moritz Bühner


About Moritz Bühner :

Blogger at knowtheflow from 2011-2013, now Sustainability Manager in the wood-based products industry. Bachelor in Environmental and Bioresource Management at the University of Applied Life Sciences Vienna. Born in Hamburg, Germany, lived in Quebec (CAN), Vienna (AUT) and Pamplona (ESP). Why he blogged? "The possibility of going into detail with every link, satisfying the desire to learn. The direct feedback. The free global distribution. I just love the medium!"

Tags:

LCA

life cycle assessment

material flow analysis

Process Optimization

resource efficiency

Umberto


1 COMMENT

  1. By Martina Prox, March 20, 2015

    If you don’t have the time to go trough a tutorial with an Umberto trial version. You may also choose to register for a free Webdemo, that give’s on overview on the most relevant function and provides a good start, before any hands-on session.

    http://www.umberto.de/en/webdemos/

    Happy life cycling!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Similar posts

20-20-20 Objectives

2012

3 scopes

3D printing

academia

ACHEMA

acidification

agriculture

air quality

aluminum

Ankara

antarctic ozone hole

apocalypse

assessment

atmospheric carbon measurement

B2B

Bachelor program

background database

BASF

battery change station

Bauwesen

best practice

bike sharing

bio capacity

bio-economy

biocapacity

biodiversity

biological gas treatment

biomass

blogs

BMBF

books

Brazil

BREEAM

building sector

building standards

business opportunity

carbon

carbon accouting

carbon assessment

carbon emissions

carbon footprint

carbon footprinting

carbon free city

carbon intensity

carbon leakage

carbon management

carbon neutral

carbon neutrality

carbon reduction

carbon relocation

carbon tax

carbon-neutral travel

cargo shipping

carton

central america

central asia

certification

CFC

change

chemical engineering

chemical industry

China

circular economy

circular flow economy

city

climate change

climate control

climate impact

climate neutral

climate protection

club of rome

CO2 balance

CO2 reduction

co2-equivalent

CO2-Fußabdruck

cogeneration

collaborative consumption

combined reporting

commercial sector

commons

comparative life cycle assessment

Competence Center

composite indicator

compost

composting

consistency

construction

construction industry

Consumer goods

consumption

container ship

cooperation along product life cycle

copenhagen

corporate carbon footprint

corporate culture

corporate material flow modeling

Corporate Social Responsibility

cost accounting

cost reduction

cost savings

cost-effective measures

Country Attractiveness

CPF

cradle to cradle

creative destruction

Creative Sustainability

Critique of the Green Economy

cross-collaboration

CSR

CSR report

customer-driven sustainability

cycling

dairy

Dashboard of Sustainability

database

Davos

de-growth economy

decarbonization

dematerialization

denmark

design

developing countries

developing world

development cooperation

Dienstleistungen

distributed manufacturing

divestment

domestic fuel consumption

domestic sector

double decoupling

e-car

e-mobility

e-sankey

e!Sankey

earth overshoot day

Earth Sciences

Earth summit

eCarUs

eco city

eco design

eco label

ecodesign

ecoinvent

Ecolabelling

ecologic footprint

ecological footprint

ecological resilience

ecological tax reform

economic indicators

ecosystem disturbance

ecovillage

education

efficiency

efficiency factory

efficiency investment

efficiency measures

efficient construction

Effizienzfabrik

EHS

eLCAr

electric car

emerging economies

emission gap

emission relocation

emissions

EMS

Energieeffizienz

energiewende

energy

energy contracting

energy efficiency

Energy Efficiency Directive

energy efficiency in production

energy efficient production

Energy Intensity by Sector

energy management

energy performance

energy reduction

energy sources

energy transition

engineering excellence

Enhipro

enms

environment

Environment Ministry

environmental accounting

environmental awareness

environmental balance

environmental capital

Environmental Contracting

environmental control

environmental cost accounting

Environmental Engineering

Environmental Goods and Services Sector

Environmental Governance

environmental impact

environmental impact data

environmental labeling

environmental LCA

environmental management

Environmental management accounting

environmental management system

environmental performance

environmental performance indicator

environmental policy

environmental product declaration

environmental product declarations

environmental profit and loss statement

environmental regulation

environmental standard

Environmental Sustainability Index

environmental technology verification

Environmentally Extend Input Output modelling

environmentally friendly raw materials

Environmentally Harmful Subsidy

Environmentally Weighed Material Consumption

EPD

EU

Europe

European Comission

european commission

European Green Cars Initiative

European Sustainable Development Strategy

eutrophication

EVALEAU

events

external effects

fashion

FIFA

fish

fishery

flow sheet simulation

food footprint

food industry

food loss

food production

food sector

food waste

footprinting

forest ecosystems

forestry

fouling

FPC

free trade

freighter travel

full cost accounting

gate-to-gate

gate-to-gate approach

geopolymer cement

Germany

Ghana

GHG emissions

GHG mitigation

GHG reduction

GHG reduction goals

glass

Global Compact

global justice

Global Supply Chains

global warming

global warming potential

GMO

governance

green building

green buildings

green business

green business models

green Christmas

green construction

green consumers

green economy

green growth

green investment

green jobs

green living

green new deal

green paradox

green production

greenhouse gas emissions

greenhouse gas inventory

greenhouse gas protocol

greenhouse gas reduction

greenhouse gases

greenwash

GRI

handprinting

Happy Life Years

harmonization

Harze

HDPE

heat integration

Herman Daly

HFC

holistic approach

holistic sustainability

human development index

HVAC

IEA

IFEU

ifu hamburg

ILCD Handbook

impact assessment

impact category

incentive

Incentive-based pay

incineration

India

industrial ecology

industrial location choice

industrial production

industrial sector

information design

innovation

input output

input-output databases

input-output economics

InReff

insulation

Integrated Reporting

integrated resource efficiency

integrative approach

intellectual property

internalization of externalities

international standards

interplant collaboration

IPCC

ISO

ISO 14000

ISO 14001

ISO 14008

ISO 14015

ISO 14025

ISO 14031

ISO 14040

ISO 14046

ISO 14051

ISO 14064

ISO 14067

ISO 50001

Jevon’s Paradox.

knowledge economy

Konsumgüter

Kooperation entlang des Produktlebenszyklus

Kuznets curve

Kyoto protocol

LCA

LCA data from suppliers

LCA database

LCA Databases

LCA inventory analysis

LCA recommendations

LCA software

LCM Berlin

lean manufacturing

Lebenszyklusperspektive

LEED

life cycle

life cycle analysis

life cycle assessment

life cycle engineering

life cycle inventory

life cycle management

life cycle perspective

life cycle thinking

life style

lifecycle

limits to growth

LinkedIn

living planet report

Long-Term Pay

low carbon economy

low-carbon transport

low-energy house

management models

manufacturing industry

masdar city

master program

material consumption

material efficiency

material flow

material flow accounting

Material Flow Accounts

material flow analysis

material flow balance

material flow cost accounting

material flow cost analysis

Material Flow Management

material flow modeling

material flow networks

material flowcosts

material flows

material footprint

material losses

materialeffizienz

meat

mechanical-biological treatment

media

metal industry

methodology

Mexico

MFA

MFCA

milk

modeling

Monetize external costs

Montreal Protocol

municipal solid waste

Natural Cost Accounting

nature conservation

Nepal

NIMBY

nitrate pollution

nuclear phase out

nutrients balance

nutrients cycle

OECD

OECD Environment Policy Committee

Ökobilanz

Ökobilanzdaten

Ökobilanzdaten vom Zulieferer

Ökobilanzdatenbanken

Ökobilanzierung

Ökolabelling

Ökologischer Fußabdruck

oligolopoly

Online Resource Efficiency Platform OREP

operational efficiency

optimization

organic agriculture

outsourcing

ozone layer recovery

packaging

PAS

passive house

patents

PET

philippines

phosphorus

photovoltaics

pilot program

pinch analysis

plastic industry

policy

policy instruments

politics

pollution haven hypothesis

post growth economy

post oil age

PR

process engineering

process heat

process improvement

process modeling

process modelling

Process Optimization

process system engineering

product carbon footprint

product environmental footprint

Product life time

product stewardship

production

production circle

production planning

production system

Production-based CO2 Productivity

productivity

Produktlebensdauer

protection proprietary data

PUMA

PVC

qatar

quality

quality journalism

quantified self

Rapid prototyping

rebound effect

recycling

refuse-derived fuel plant

remuneration

remuneration of environmental performance

renewable energy

renewable energy in manufacturing

renewable heat

renewable hydrogen

renewable methane

renewable process heat

renewable raw material

Renewable Resources

renewable thermal energy

resilience

resource conflicts

resource efficiency

Resource Efficiency Framework

resource flows

resource politics

resource productivity

resources

ressource efficiency analysis

ressourceneffizienz

retailer

reuse

RFID

Rio+20 summit

rising material demand

risk management

Rolf Dobelli

sankey diagram

saving potentials

savings

Schutz vertraulicher Daten

scope 3

seafood

season's greetings

seattle

services industry

shopping rage

smart grid

smart meter

SMB

social cost accounting

social LCA

social media

social metabolism

Social-Ecological Resilience

software

solar energy

solar heat

solar thermal energy

South Africa

South America

South Korea

soy milk

stakeholder management

standards

statistics

steady state economy

steel

stranded assets

strong sustainability

studies

sufficiency

supermarket chain

sustainability

sustainability consulting

sustainability control

sustainability indicators

sustainability innovation

sustainability management

sustainability performance

sustainability projects

sustainability reporting

Sustainability Science

sustainability strategy

sustainability triangle

sustainable agriculture

sustainable architecture

sustainable business

sustainable construction

sustainable development

sustainable housing

sustainable lifestyle

Sustainable Living

Sustainable Process Index

sustainable resins

Sustainable Resource Management

sustainable transport

sydney

system analysis

tajikistan

telecommunications

Telekommunikation

Tesco

textile industry

textile refinement

Tobias Viere

total material consumption

trade

transparency

transport

transport emissions

transport sector

Treibhauspotenzial

trends

triple bottom line principles

Turkey

Umberto

umberto for carbon footprint

umberto user workshop

Umweltbilanz

Umweltbundesamt

umweltfreundliche Rohmaterialien

university

upcycling

urban carbon emissions

VDMA

Vélib’

vernon curve

vertical cooperation

Vertragsnaturschutz

virtual water

waste air treatment

waste cycle

waste disposal

waste hierarchy

waste management

waste prevention

wastewater

wastewater treatment

water abstraction rate

Water Consumption by Sector

water extraction

water filter

water footprint

Water Management

water stress

web 2.0

Wellbeing Index

wind gas

wind power

wine

with both eyes open

working conditions

world cup

world statistics day

world vegan day

YET

zero carbon

zero carbon city

zero emission mobility

zero growth

zero growth economy