An integrated method of environmental assessment coupling a geographic information system to multi-criteria analysis

  • Thomas Kurka

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis develops and applies an integrated method of environmental assessment that couples a geographic Information system (GIS) to Multi-Criteria Analysis (MCA), using bioenergy combustion and CHP sites as a case study.

    A literature review to identify the gaps in knowledge with respect to spatial MCA and GIS-based approaches to support decision-making and sustainability assessments shows the need for an approach to identify suitable locations for Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants using bioenergy combustion and to analyse spatial aspects. CHP plants can improve the efficiency and sustainability of bioenergy generation because they are capable of producing and utilising both electrical and thermal energy. Identifying suitable locations for these, typically decentralised, plants is crucial but challenging because proximity to both feedstock supply and heat demand has to be considered. The thesis develops and applies a novel GIS-based approach to identify suitable locations for CHP bioenergy plants and to analyse spatial aspects. This work stands out as the principal novel contribution of the research presented in this thesis.

    The science-based technical assessment can be integrated in a formal and structured decision support framework (DSF) which could aid environmental decision-making. There is no single right way to conduct a decision-making process because every process is limited by resources and timelines. The environmental assessment case study described in this thesis uses a modified version of the MCA framework proposed by the Department for Communities and Local Government (2009). The GIS-based approach is integrated in this DSF to couple GIS to MCA. Additionally, specific attention is given to reviewing and selecting sustainability aspects (covering Criteria and Indicators) and MCA methods. These processes are also integrated in the DSF and can be seen as being part of the problem structuring phase of the DSF used in the research presented in this thesis.

    It is shown how the DSF is applied to assess alternatives for centralised and decentralised generation in a research case study region. By applying the different stages of the DSF, including the GIS-based approach, the selection processes and a selected MCA method (Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP)), it can be concluded that the decentralised alternatives should be preferred in the research case study scenarios if regional sustainable bioenergy generation wants to be archived. In the first scenario, the second alternative (A2) clearly dominates with an overall score of 71.82% (A1: 28.18%). However, the results are relatively close in the second scenario (A3: 56.62%, A4: 43.38%), which is mainly due to the similarity of the alternatives in the scenario. The sensitivity analyses show that the rankings of alternatives do not change in both scenarios unless major criteria weight variations or performance adjustments are made.
    Date of AwardDec 2014
    Original languageEnglish


    • Geographic information system
    • Multi-criteria analysis
    • Environmental assessment

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