Thinking about how best to leverage our work so far


Dear all-

Disclaimer: The following could all be incorrect, it's late, I'm
tired, people make mistakes, etc.

As far as I know, there are currently three initiatives started
recently to build large, open LCI databases: The PEF in Europe, the
effort to harmonize LCI data generation in the US (led by the US EPA,
but involving many federal agencies, see previous mailing list post),
and a new database to be created in Canada.

The PEF was led, or at least steered, by people with a lot of
experience in the LCA community, and they followed their habits (and
EU political instructions), by buying data from commercial databases
(I include ecoinvent here), but requiring data delivery in the ILCD
format. The PEF was a bit strange in that each product category went
through a separate bidding process, as so each product category
database lives on its own. Aggregated data is available, but not under
an open license (see examples here:

The US EPA has a history of collaboration with Green Delta, built on
their use of the OpenLCA software. OpenLCA is attractive both because
it is open source and free (not the same thing :), but also because it
is easy to deploy to many partners without too much training. As part
of this collaboration, they developed the OpenLCA JSON-LD format
(, which they use
extensively, both in exchanging datasets and databases, but also in
their tooling, elementary flow lists, etc. OLCA schema is different
than our ontology, but it is a semantic web ontology, and it has great
documentation and examples. Development by both US EPA and GreenDelta
take place on GitHub, with a core group of a few people contributing
most of the work.

The Canadian effort is still under development, but is leaning towards
working deeply with ecoinvent, which means not just integrating well
with ecoinvent, but also adopting their toolchain for data input and
validation, system modelling, etc. One person who is part of this
effort told me (and I paraphrase): "I am sympathetic to working more
closely with BONSAI, but I don't have anything hard to bring into
meetings with others who appreciate open data as a practical good
instead of a philosophical one." And they are right! Currently, we
can't really point to a finished tool chain, though we are obviously
trying to change this as fast as possible, thanks again to the Aalborg
crew for the mini-hackathon this weekend.

So BONSAI has effectively zero contribution to any of these three
databases, even though all three are or will be open data.

What I want to say is simple: There are a million problems, including
a lot of fun ones. BONSAI really suffers from the fact that most of us
are volunteers, and as such we want to work on fun problems, and not
necessarily doing the second 90% of the work
( that is needed to
bring a tool from proof of concept to something that can be used by
many people in actual practice. We have a lot of experience, and have
made a lot of decisions as a group in a systematic and organized
fashion, but we need to do a better job of translating our knowledge
base into material that is easy for other to understand, benefit from,
and use as arguments to build systems compatible with BONSAI.

I contend that, after completing the 2019 hackathon toolchain, the
most effective use of our resources would be to help others make
systems that build on and work with BONSAI. If this supposition was
true, how would this change where you chose to focus the limited free
time you have available?


Chris Mutel
Technology Assessment Group, LEA
Paul Scherrer Institut
5232 Villigen PSI
Telefon: +41 56 310 5787

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