Life cycle assessment of hemp-based milk alternative production in Lower Saxony, Germany, based on a material flow analysis of a pilot scale

Jannatul Ferdouse, Beatriz Q. Silva, Marie Christin Baune, Nino Terjung, Sergiy Smetana*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Purpose: Recently, demand for plant-based milk products (PBMP) has increased for multiple reasons, such as the rapid population growth expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, health concerns such as lactose intolerance, nutritional aspects, ethical reasons, and environmental concerns. This leads to increased demand for food and competition for natural resources. Hemp-based milk is an emerging dairy alternative, and stakeholders in the supply chain are becoming increasingly interested in learning about the environmental effects of its production. This article aims for a comparative life cycle assessment of hemp-based and bovine milk with fat and protein correction to account for the differences in macronutrient content. Methods: The cradle-to-factory gate LCA relied on experimental cultivation and milk production in Lower Saxony, Germany. Inventory was based on primary data from fields and the pilot plant of DIL e. V. and on literature and ecoinvent database to develop a life cycle assessment (LCA) model. The LCA was performed using Simapro 9.3 software and IMPACT 2002+ impact assessment method. The life cycle stages include cultivation, harvesting, and milk production. The study compared hemp-based milk to bovine milk based on 1 kg fat and protein-corrected milk (FPCM) as a functional unit (FU). Co-products are taken into consideration using mass-economic allocation. Results: The results showed that hemp cultivation accounted for the highest impact (99%) in the production chain of hemp milk production. The GWP of 1 kg of FPCM hemp-based milk is 0.42 kg CO2 eq. The energy consumption for 1 kg of FPCM hemp-based milk is 4.73 MJ (12.26% lower than bovine milk). The other main factors impacting hemp-based milk production were terrestrial ecotoxicity (6.444E2 kg TEG soil) and aquatic ecotoxicity (2.458E2 kg TEG water). Hemp fiber was the co-product with 40% of the allocated impacts. The results are sensitive to the changes in fat-protein contents, functional unit, and system boundaries. The results demonstrated that the impacts of hemp milk production were within the range indicated for other PBMP production and 51.7% lower than bovine milk production in terms of GWP. This range primarily stems from field emissions, fertilizer application, and machinery usage during cultivation and harvest. Conclusion: The results of the comparisons of bovine milk and hemp-based milk were dependable on the FU. The hemp-based milk has the potential to be a more sustainable alternative to bovine milk due to considerably lower impacts in impact categories—land occupation (99% lower than bovine milk), global warming (52% lower than bovine milk), and ionizing radiation (23% lower than bovine milk). It is primarily due to less use of agricultural machinery, less land requirement, and lower NH3 emissions than bovine milk in various stages of milk production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)652-668
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Volume29
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024

Keywords

  • Hemp milk alternative
  • Impact assessment
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Plant-based milk alternative
  • Vegan milk

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