Stochastic and epistemic uncertainty propagation in LCA - BRGM - Bureau de recherches géologiques et minières Access content directly
Journal Articles International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment Year : 2013

Stochastic and epistemic uncertainty propagation in LCA


Purpose: When performing uncertainty propagation, most LCA practitioners choose to represent uncertainties by single probability distributions and to propagate them using stochastic methods. However the selection of single probability distributions appears often arbitrary when faced with scarce information or expert judgement (epistemic uncertainty). Possibility theory has been developed over the last decades to address this problem. The objective of this study is to present a methodology that combines probability and possibility theories to represent stochastic and epistemic uncertainties in a consistent manner and apply it to LCA. A case study is used to show the uncertainty propagation performed with the proposed method and compare it to propagation performed using probability and possibility theories alone. Methods: Basic knowledge on the probability theory is first recalled, followed by a detailed description of epistemic uncertainty representation using fuzzy intervals. The propagation methods used are the Monte Carlo analysis for probability distribution and an optimisation on alpha-cuts for fuzzy intervals. The proposed method (noted IRS) generalizes the process of random sampling to probability distributions as well as fuzzy intervals, thus making the simultaneous use of both representations possible. Results and discussion: The results highlight the fundamental difference between the probabilistic and possibilistic representations: while the Monte Carlo analysis generates a single probability distribution, the IRS method yields a family of probability distributions bounded by an upper and a lower distribution. The distance between these two bounds is the consequence of the incomplete character of information pertaining to certain parameters. In a real situation, an excessive distance between these two bounds might motivate the decision-maker to increase the information base regarding certain critical parameters, in order to reduce the uncertainty. Such a decision could not ensue from a purely probabilistic calculation based on subjective (postulated) distributions (despite lack of information), because there is no way of distinguishing, in the variability of the calculated result, what comes from true randomness and what comes from incomplete information. Conclusions: The method presented offers the advantage of putting the focus on the information rather than deciding a priori of how to represent it. If the information is rich, then a purely statistical representation mode is adequate, but if the information is scarce, then it may be better conveyed by possibility distributions.
Fichier principal
Vignette du fichier
JLCA-13-Clavreul-Stochastic_and_epistemic_uncertainty_propagation_in_LCA.pdf (455.67 Ko) Télécharger le fichier
Origin Files produced by the author(s)

Dates and versions

hal-00811827 , version 1 (11-04-2013)



Julie Clavreul, Dominique Guyonnet, Davide Tonini, Thomas Christensen. Stochastic and epistemic uncertainty propagation in LCA. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 2013, 18 (7), pp.1393-1403. ⟨10.1007/s11367-013-0572-6⟩. ⟨hal-00811827⟩


244 View
965 Download



Gmail Mastodon Facebook X LinkedIn More