Cardinal LCA, an early-stage environmental-impact assessment tool developed by Jessica Chen (MDes EE ’22) and Kritika Kharbanda (MDes EE ’23), was recently released as a Grasshopper plug-in. Designed for non-experts, the tool allows architects to analyze the environmental costs of material decisions in the early stages of the design process.
The framework for the tool was formed in “Advanced Topics on Embodied Carbon in Buildings,” a fall 2020 seminar led by Jonathan Grinham, lecturer in architecture and senior research associate. The course provided “an open arena to address the environmental and human impacts of material management in the built environment through tangible, design-led learning.”
Over the summer, Chen and Kharbanda created an external team to develop their GSD research into a Grasshopper plug-in. “Currently, the product stages (A1-A3) are accounted for in the GWP [Global Warming Potential] calculation, and the study boundary includes early design stage elements in a Rhino model—the structure, envelope, and interior assemblies,” explain Chen and Kharbanda. “The tool analyzes the embodied impacts (GWP in kgCO2e) using the EC3 (US) and ICE 2019 (UK) databases.”
Users have the option to input their own Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) data and develop their own library, and the tool’s outputs are shared through Excel. The files include values, 2D graphs, and 3D mapping highlighting elements with the lowest and highest GWP contributions.
“Using Cardinal LCA in early stages allows for quick estimation, with more carbon capture benefits,” note Chen and Kharbanda. “It is easily integrated into the architectural workflow and architects save time by performing real-time visualizations. Further, architects can exercise the flexibility of controlling precision by using average or specific values.”
In September, the Cardinal LCA team received the 6th Annual MDes R&D Award to present their work at the American Center for Life Cycle Assessment (ACLCA) 2021 Conference.