Life Cycle Assessment methodology to evaluate environmental impact of beef manure management: a comparison


Manure from beef feedlot productions can be managed through a diversity of strategies. When choosing from the possible scenarios the main factors influencing the decision are financial, logistical or from a regulatory fulfillment focus, however it is necessary to consider the environmental impact generated from the manure management system in order to generate less burdens on behalf of meat production. One of the most reliable methodologies for this matter is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), which considers every input and output throughout the process and will calculate environmental emissions quantitatively. In this study we compared various LCA studies of beef lot manure management processes, with the aim of understanding the different systems´ hotspots and global emissions so that these can be considered when establishing a manure management system in similar facilities.

What Did We Do?

We gathered LCA studies published from peer-reviewed scientific journals that assessed the environmental impact of beef manure management. The search terms taken into account were “LCA and beef manure” and “LCA and feedlot manure”. To enable comparison between studies the following criterion were considered for inclusion: a) manure collected from intensive feedlot facilities b) results reporting at least global warming potential.

In order to categorize emissions generated from the entire manure life cycle we established four stages of manure management: Feedlot, transport, storage/transformation and use/disposal. Next, we identified which of these stages were taken into account in each study and if emissions were reported for stages individually as well as globally. Lastly, a comparison between LCAs was conducted for which we converted the functional units reported in the references to 1 ton of manure (dry basis). With this we can visualize the emissions generated from every ton of dry manure that enters the system despite the functionality to which it´s destined.

What Have We Learned?

The final review included 14 references which resulted in 19 scenarios evaluated, ranging from 2007 to 2021. Initially we noted that the system with the greatest number of evaluations performed was the transformation of manure into an energetic resource (E), with 12 of the 19 scenarios being focused on energy generation through manure treatment processes, emphasizing that the current trends are not only leaning towards a better manure use but also cleaner energy sources. On the counter part, composting (C) and stockpiling (SP) are the two least evaluated scenarios through LCA (just once in the articles present in this review). Manure composting and stockpiling aren´t perceived as innovative solutions when aiming to mitigate emissions, but shouldn´t be left aside when performing evaluations, since they´re the most applied techniques for feedlot manure management.

The energetic evaluations represented both, the most (E3) and the least emissions (E7) through the whole process. This is because bioenergetic sources, such as the one generated from manure transformation, frequently are given environmental credits and therefore negative emission values considering the substitution of other energetic resources. In this review 10 of the 12 energetic scenarios considered emission reduction by substitution, but not because the actual process generated less amount of greenhouse gases in itself. Energy production from manure is, in many cases assessed as a life cycle for transformation and excluding other stages of the entire management system. In fact, apart from the kind of treatment only 21.4% of all the LCAs considered in this study included all four stages. Since two of them (Lansche et al, 2012; Van Stappen et al, 2016) mentioned that the best mitigation emission option was to reduce storage time, and one (Giwa et al, 2017) reported the largest emissions coming from transportation we can assume that both, storage and transport are important stages when looking at sources of emissions and should not be left aside.

The difference between emissions between different manure management systems can be as extreme as 4,000X depending on system boundaries, allocation procedures, emission factors, environmental credits, amongst others. When evaluating a manure management system, it is necessary to consider every stage and so that emission reduction can be addressed in the whole process hotspots and not only during the transformation of organic matter.

Future Plans

To conduct an attributional LCA of beef feedlot manure management system as a case study. With this we will contribute more data to contrast composting or stockpiling scenarios and address the weight of the different manure management in a feedlot facility. Also, we will report eutrophication potential and water depletion, as their importance in the environmental impacts of manure management is well known and should be considered when decisions are being made.


Andrea Wingartz, National Autonomous University of Mexico

Corresponding author email address

Additional author

PhD. Rafael Olea Pérez, National Autonomous University of Mexico