A greenhouse gas indicator for bioenergy: some theoretical issues with practical implications
Background, aim, and scope
The expectations with respect to biomass as a resource for sustainable energy are sky-high. Many industrialized countries have adopted ambitious policy targets and have introduced financial measures to stimulate the production or use of bioenergy. Meanwhile, the side-effects and associated risks have been pointed out as well. To be able to make a well-informed decision, the Dutch government has expressed the intention to include sustainability criteria into relevant policy instruments.
Among other criteria, it has been proposed to calculate a so-called life-cycle-based greenhouse gas (GHG) indicator, which expresses the reduction of GHG emissions of a bio-based fuel chain in comparison with a fossil-based fuel chain. Life-cycle-based biofuel studies persistently have problems with the handling of biogenic carbon balances and with the treatment of coproducts and recycling. In life-cycle assessments (LCAs) of agricultural products, a distinction between “negative” and “positive” emissions may be relevant. In particular, carbon dioxide, as a naturally occurring compound or an anthropogenic emission, takes part in the so-called geochemical carbon cycle. The most appropriate way to treat carbon cycles is to view them as genuine cycles and, thus, at the systems level, subtract the fixation of CO2 during tree growth from the CO2 emitted during waste treatment of discarded wood and to quantify the CH4 emitted. In solving the multifunctionality problem, two steps may be distinguished. The first concerns the modeling of the product system studied in the inventory analysis. In this step, system boundaries are set, processes are described, and process flows are quantified. Multifunctionality problems can be identified and the model of the product system is drafted. The second step concerns solving the remaining multifunctionality problems. For this step, various ways of solving the multifunctionality problem have been proposed and applied, on the basis of mass, energy, economic value, avoided burdens, etc. As the GHG indicator may constitute the basis for granting subsidies to stimulate the use of bioenergy, for example, and as the method for the GHG indicator provides no guidelines on the handling of biogenic CO2 and guidelines for solving multifunctionality problems such as with coproducts and recycling that leave room for various choices, this study analyzed whether the current GHG indicator provides results that are a robust basis for granting such subsidies.
For the robustness check, a hypothetical case study on wood residue-based electricity was set up in order to illustrate what the effects of different solutions and choices for the two steps mentioned may be. The case dealt with the production of wood pellets (residues of the wood industry) that are cofired in a coal-fired power plant. The functional unit is 1 kWh of electricity. Three possibilities for the places of the multifunctional process, two possibilities for whether or not to include biogenic CO2, and four possibilities for the allocation method were distinguished and calculated. Varying the options for these three choices in this way appears to have a huge effect on the GHG indicator, while no clear pattern seems to emerge.
The results found for this hypothetical case indicate that there are several methodological choices that have not sufficiently been fixed by the presently available standards and guidelines for LCA and GHG assessment of bioenergy systems. In particular, we have focused on issues related to biogenic CO2 and allocation, two issues that play a prominent role in the assessment of bioenergy systems. Moreover, we have demonstrated with a small hypothetical case study that these are not only issues that might theoretically show up, but that they play a decisive role in practice.
The present (Dutch) GHG indicator lacks robustness, which will raise problems for providing a sound basis for granting subsidies. This situation can, however, be improved by reducing the freedom of choices for the handling of biogenic CO2 and allocation to an absolute minimum.
Recommendations and perspectives
Even then, however, differences could appear due to different definitions, data sources, and method interpretations. It thus appears that two kinds of guidance are needed: (1) the LCA methodology itself should be expanded with guidelines for those issues that follow from science, logic, or consensus; (2) in the policy regulation that demands LCA to be the basis of the decision, additional guidelines should be specified that perhaps do not (yet) have the status of being scientifically proven or generally agreed upon, but that serve as a set of temporary extra guidelines.
- Aalde, H, Gonzalez, P, Gytarsky, M, Krug, T, Kurz, WA, Lasco, RD, Martino, DL, McConkey, BG, Ogle, S, Paustian, K, Raison, J, Ravindranath, NH, Schoene, D, Smith, P, Somogyi, Z, Amstel, A, Verchot, L (2006) Chapter 2: Generic methodologies applicable to multiple land-use categories. IPCC guidelines for national greenhouse gas inventories. Agriculture, forestry and other land use, vol 4. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Geneva
- Anonymous (2006) Criteria voor duurzame biomassa productie. Eindrapport van de projectgroep “Duurzame productie van biomassa”. Utrecht, the Netherlands: SenterNovem. https://www.senter.nl/mmfiles/Criteria_voor_duurzame_biomassa_productie_Eindrapport_tcm24-200925.pdf. Accessed December 2007)
- Ayres, RU (1995) Life cycle analysis: a critique. Resour Conserv Recycl 14: pp. 199-223 CrossRef
- Bergsma G, Vroonhof J, Dornburg V (2006) The greenhouse gas calculation methodology for biomass-based electricity, heat and fuels—The view of the Cramer Commission. Delft, the Netherlands: CE Delft Solutions for environment, economy and technology. http://www.senternovem.nl/mmfiles/methodologiegreenhousecalculethod_tcm24-239731.pdf. Accessed December 2007
- Boswell A, Ernsting A, Rughani D (2007) Agrofuels threaten to accelerate global warming. Biofuelwatch. http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/biofuels_and_climate_change.pdf. Accessed December 2007
- Butler RA (2007) Indonesian palm oil industry tries disinformation campaign. http://news.mongabay.com/2007/1108-palm_oil.html. Accessed December 2007
- Curran, MA (2007) Studying the effect on system preference by varying coproduct allocation in creating life-cycle inventory. Environ Sci Technol 41: pp. 7145-7151 CrossRef
- Damen, K, Faaij, A (2006) A greenhouse gas balance of two existing international biomass import chains—the case of residue co-firing in a pulverised coal-fired power plant in the Netherlands. Mitig Adapt Strategies Glob Chang 11: pp. 1023-1050 CrossRef
- Delucchi MA (2003) A lifecycle emissions model(lem): lifecycle emissions from transportation fuels, motor vehicles, transportation modes, electricity use, heating and cooking fuels, and materials. Documentation of methods and data. UCD-ITS-RR-03-17. MAIN REPORT. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA. http://www.its.ucdavis.edu/people/faculty/delucchi/index.php#LifecycleEmissions
- Doornbosch, R, Steenblik, R (2007) Biofuels: is the cure worse than the disease? Round Table on Sustainable Development, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). OECD, Paris
- ecoinvent Centre (2004) ecoinvent data v1.1, Final reports ecoinvent 2000 No. 1–15. CD-ROM, ISBN 3-905594-38-2. Swiss Centre for Life Cycle Inventories, Dübendorf.
- Guinée, JB, Gorrée, M, Heijungs, R, Huppes, G, Kleijn, R, Koning, A, Oers, L, Wegener Sleeswijk, A, Suh, S, Udo de Haes, HA, Bruijn, JA, Duin, R, Huijbregts, MAJ eds. (2002) Handbook on life cycle assessment: Operational guide to the ISO standards. Series: Eco-efficiency in industry and science. Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht
- Guinée, JB, Heijungs, R, Huppes, G (2004) Economic allocation: Examples and derived decision tree. Int J LCA 9: pp. 23-33 CrossRef
- Guinée, JB, Heijungs, R (2007) Calculating the influence of allocation scenarios in fossil fuel chains. Int J LCA 12: pp. 173-180 CrossRef
- Environmental management—Life cycle assessment—Principles and framework (ISO 14040:2006). International Organization for Standardization, Geneva
- International Organization for Standardization (2006b) Environmental management—Life cycle assessment—Requirements and guidelines (ISO 14044:2006). Geneva, Switzerland. http://www.iso.org/iso/iso_catalogue/catalogue_tc/catalogue_detail.htm?csnumber=38498
- JRC-IES (2007) Carbon footprint—what it is and how to measure it. European Platform on Life Cycle Assessment. European Commission — Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability. Ispra. http://lca.jrc.ec.europa.eu/Carbon_footprint.pdf
- Jungbluth N, Chudacoff M, Dauriat A, Dinkel F, Doka G, Faist Emmenegger M, Gnansounou E, Kljun N, Schleiss K, Spielmann M, Stettler C, Sutter J (2007) Life Cycle Inventories of Bioenergy. Ecoinvent report No. 17, v2.0. ESU-services, Uster, Switzerland. www.ecoinvent.org
- Jungbluth N, Büsser S, Frischknecht R, Tuchschmid M (2008) Ökobilanz von Energieprodukten: life cycle assessment of biomass-to-liquid fuels. ESU-services, Uster, Switzerland. http://www.bfe.admin.ch/php/modules/enet/streamfile.php?file=000000009552.pdf&name=000000280006
- Koplow D (2006) Biofuels—At what cost? Government support for ethanol and biodiesel in the United States. Geneva, Switzerland: Global Subsidies Initiative (GSI), International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)
- Kutas G, Lindberg C, Steenblik R (2007) Biofuels—At what cost? Government support for ethanol and biodiesel in the European Union. Geneva, Switzerland: Global Subsidies Initiative (GSI), International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)
- Mendoza A, Ruijven T van, Vad K, Wardenaar T (2008) The allocation problem in bio-electricity chains. Report of a Project Group as part of the MSc. Industrial Ecology, Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML), Leiden, The Netherlands. http://www.leidenuniv.nl/cml/ssp/students/mendoza_et_al/allocation_bio_electricity.pdf
- Rabl, A, Benoist, A, Bron, D, Peuportier, B, Spadaro, JV, Zoughaib, A (2007) How to account for CO2 emissions from biomass in an LCA. Int J LCA 12: pp. 281 CrossRef
- (S&T)2 Consultants Inc (2004): GHGenius, A model for lifecycle assessment of transportation fuels. http://www.ghgenius.ca/
- Thomassen, MA, Dalgaard, R, Heijungs, R, Boer, I (2008) Attributional and consequential LCA of milk production. Int J LCA 13: pp. 339-349 CrossRef
- Virtanen, Y, Nilsson, S (1993) Environmental impacts of waste paper recycling. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) & Earthscan, London
- Wang, M, Lee, H, Molburg, J (2004) Allocation of energy use in petroleum refineries to petroleum products; implications for life-cycle energy use and emission inventory of petroleum transportation fuels. Int J LCA 9: pp. 34-44 CrossRef
- Wegener Sleeswijk, A, Kleijn, R, Zeijts, H, Reus, JAWA, Meeuwsen-van Onna, MJG, Leneman, H, Sengers, HHWJM (1996) Application of LCA to agricultural products. 1. Core methodological issues; 2. Supplement to the ‘LCA Guide’; 3. Methodological background. Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML), Leiden
- A greenhouse gas indicator for bioenergy: some theoretical issues with practical implications
- Open Access
- Available under Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Volume 14, Issue 4 , pp 328-339
- Cover Date
- Print ISSN
- Online ISSN
- Additional Links
- Biogenic CO2
- Carbon footprint
- Greenhouse gas indicator
- Life cycle assessment
- Industry Sectors