The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on December 10 released preliminary research findings that will help set a new standard in life-cycle assessment (LCA) modeling. The studies, which are part of an ongoing research initiative at the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub, will quantify the cradle-to-grave environmental costs of paving and building materials, and will ultimately result in the most comprehensive LCA model produced to-date.

The scope and detail of MIT's LCA model will set their current efforts apart from previous work. According to MIT professor and research team leader John Ochsendorf, the expanded life-cycle window – 50 years for paving materials and 75 years for building materials – combined with the level of detailed analysis conducted on the use phase of structures and pavements will distinguish MIT's latest research. Initial reports have shown the importance of including the use phase, with MIT researchers finding that more than 90 percent of residential building life-cycle carbon emissions and up to 85 percent of highway pavement emissions occur during this period.

"The life-cycle model we are developing will combine the best data on the full range of costs – construction, maintenance, reconstruction, user, direct, and indirect – with a time frame that reflects the real world life of pavements and building materials," said Ochsendorf.

MIT's ongoing work on measuring the life-cycle carbon emissions of these materials is scheduled to be completed by August 2011. The environmental findings will then be supplemented by economic analyses in 2011 to provide the most accurate assessment of the economic and environmental impacts for buildings and pavements yet produced.

The economic study will produce an equally comprehensive life-cycle cost analysis (LCCA) model. According to Ochsendorf, once both studies are completed, MIT will have "provided the scientific community, industry leaders and policymakers with a framework to determine the economic and environmental life-cycle costs of selected infrastructure materials throughout the real life of projects."

As policymakers and political leaders work to account for the environmental and economic costs of public building and paving projects, this type of comprehensive costing model of key materials may provide a roadmap to those who plan these major initiatives.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a world renowned leader in research, education, and higher learning. Established in 2009, MIT's Concrete Sustainability Hub is a collaborative effort to integrate the best science on concrete and similar building materials into industry practices. The MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub includes researchers from multiple schools at MIT, including MIT's School of Engineering and MIT's School of Architecture and Planning. For more on MIT's work, visit (http://web.mit.edu/cshub).