The ICE database - FAQs
The ICE Database has been used by over 17,000 people. Answers to some of the most frequently asked questions can be found below.
Q - Is the ICE database applicable to countries other than the UK?
A – The ICE database can be used as ‘proxy data’ in the absence of country specific data. This is also a common approach in life cycle assessment (LCA) where the driver is as much to make a comparison as to arrive at an absolute number. The ICE database has drawn on data from around the globe. For many materials there is a strong influence of international data, for example steel, plastics, aluminium, amongst others. This data has been tailored as much as possible for a UK perspective, for example by including the specific material type consumption mixture (sheets, extrusions, etc) within the UK. This is used to estimate the values for the ‘General’ category (i.e. see one of the FAQs below). Additionally, for many materials the ICE database has used a UK perspective to convert from embodied energy to embodied carbon.
Embodied energy normally relates to an international context better than embodied carbon. Two products may have a similar embodied energy but a different national fuel preference and electricity mixture can result in an entirely different embodied carbon. It is standard practice in this research field to use the best available information as proxy data for other countries. It is not perfect but it can still provide useful analysis and conclusions.
Q - Can I use the ICE database to sectors outside of construction?
A – Yes. The range of materials consumed within a building is vast. Hence many of the materials in the ICE database are relevant to a diverse range of sectors. An exception would be for electrical items. These specialist items are likely to have a large number of intricate components that are not covered by the ICE database. Electronic goods also tend to have high additional manufacturing energy (a brief analysis suggests that the embodied energy and carbon of electrical items is wide ranging and comparatively high). If electrical items are of interest Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are becoming a valuable resource. EPDs are often available for download on manufacturers’ websites.
Q - What does the category ‘General’ include, e.g. ‘General Aluminium’?
A – This category serves as a typical category and a ‘fall back’ option. For example, the values in this category have been calculated to represent the average material purchased in this market. Considering the case of aluminium, the data was calculated with a world average recycled content, but also with the UK consumption mixture, i.e. percent of extrusion, rolled and cast. This category may be selected if further details of the specific material type are unknown.
Q - Why does timber have two embodied carbon coefficients?
A – The newest ICE data separates the embodied carbon emissions into those derived from burning of fossil fuels and those from burning of biomass. Thus the user can choose to make biomass combustion CO2 neutral if required, e.g. this could be done in specific conditions under Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) methods. The two numbers summed together give the total carbon released cradle-to-gate. The total would be used in the case where the biomass combustion cannot be considered as carbon neutral (i.e. if the timber is not from a sustainably managed forest). However, under sustainable forestry conditions the embodied carbon may be taken as simply the carbon released from fossil fuels (i.e. the first carbon number).
Q - I tried to replicate the ICE values of embodied carbon using the embodied energy fuel breakdown. I cannot achieve similar values. Why?
A – Embodied energy is a measure of primary energy (see glossary). Primary energy is taken here as energy that is traced back to the cradle (earth). It includes the energy required to extract, refine and transport fuels and not just the energy directly contained in, for example, a barrel of oil. The main error in your calculation is likely to be from the embodied energy and carbon associated with electricity. The breakdown in the ICE database (see material profiles) includes the fraction of energy from electricity. This fraction is measured in primary energy. This means that the standard carbon emission factors for each unit of electricity do not apply. Electricity in the UK comes from a centralised network, which undergoes large losses in generation. As a general rule of thumb three units of primary energy are required to provide a single unit of electrical energy to UK consumers, i.e. 3 units of oil in the oil well are required for 1 unit of electricity out of a plug socket. This ratio varies widely for each country. If you do not consider the relationship in the ICE embodied energy breakdown you will get a factor three error to the electricity contribution to embodied carbon.
A final point to make for this question is that several key building materials have a non-fuel related release of carbon emissions in manufacturing processes. These materials include, for example, cement and concrete, clay, bricks, ceramics, glass and a small quantity from steel. The most notable example is certainly cement. This non-fuel related release is added in to get the embodied carbon figure but naturally it is not included in the embodied energy calculation.
Q - Do the values for embodied carbon measure carbon dioxide (CO2) only, or a broader range of greenhouse gasses (GHG), i.e. in carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e)?
A – The previous versions of the ICE database captured carbon dioxide only. This was the first version of the ICE database that has also estimated the full greenhouse gas emissions associated with materials. This version of the database contains both the CO2 only and also the GHG emissions measured in CO2e. If you are not sure which values are presented take a look at the units. GHG emissions are measured in kg CO2e.
Q - Can I use the ICE data in a carbon (footprint) calculator?
A – Yes, so long as you clearly reference the ICE database and this website for providing some of the background data for the tool. The ICE database is widely used in calculators, some of which are freely available, and its format is ideal for integration into such tools.
Q – What is the difference between embodied carbon and a carbon footprint?
A – They are very similar. In fact the main difference between the two is that the term carbon footprint can also be used to discuss operational carbon requirements, for example heating and lighting of a building, or operation of a power tool. Whereas embodied carbon can only be used in the context of materials, for example all activities related to the construction of a building or production of a power tool, including the production of materials.
For more information see our full article on embodied carbon versus a carbon footprint.
Q – What do the sub categories mean in the ‘Embodied Energy Database Statistics’ of the material profiles?
A – As discussed in the material profile guide these statistics have come from all the data that was collected to create the publically available ICE database. The sub categories come from how the data was stored. The unspecified category is for data that did not specify a recycled content. It is not recommended to use the average embodied energy from any of these statistics; they are presented here as supplementary information. The full data range and standard deviation may be useful to see how difficult it was for us to select the best values. Not all of the data that was collect is appropriate to use. The recommended data is the main values that have been selected.
Q – What was the effect of the conversion of the embodied carbon data from CO2 only to CO2e?
A – The CO2e values are higher than the CO2 only values. The main reason for this increase is typically methane emissions, but for some materials other greenhouse gases are notably significant. For example PFCs for Aluminuim and dinotrogen monoxide for nylon. When looking at the difference please bear in mind that the data has been traced back to the cradle. On the scopes of the greenhouse gas protocol (scopes 1, 2 and 3) the data considers all three scopes. For example methane emissions from coal mining and gas leakages from natural gas pipelines are considered. These are only captured when the data is traced back to the cradle.
If you wish to discuss the ICE database further please contact us.
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