Comparative attributional life cycle assessment of European cellulase enzyme production for use in second-generation lignocellulosic bioethanol production

  • Geoffrey S. Gilpin
  • Anders S. G. Andrae



The production of cellulase enzymes (CE) has been identified as one major contributor towards the life cycle environmental and economic impacts of second-generation lignocellulosic bioethanol (LCB) production. Despite this knowledge, the literature lacks consistent and transparent life cycle assessments (LCA) which compare CE production based on the three more commonly proposed carbon sources: cornstarch glucose, sugar cane molasses and pre-treated softwood. Furthermore, numerous LCAs of LCB omit CE production from their system boundaries, with several authors citing the lack of available production data.


In this article, we perform a comparative attributional LCA for the on-site production of 1 kg CE in full broth via submerged aerobic fermentation (SmF) based on the three alternative carbon sources, cases A, B and C, respectively. We determine life cycle inventory (LCI) material consumption using stoichiometric equations and volume flow, supplemented with information from the literature. All LCIs are provided in a consistent and transparent manner, filling the existing data gaps towards performing representative LCAs of LCB production with on-site CE production. Life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) results are determined with SimaPro 8 software using CML 1A baseline and non-baseline methods along with cumulative energy demand and are compared to results of similar studies. Sensitivity analysis is performed both for all major assumptions and for market changes with the application of advanced attributional LCA (AALCA).

Results and discussion

We find that CE production from pre-treated softwood (case C) provides the lowest environmental impacts, followed by sugar cane molasses (case B) and then cornstarch glucose (case A), with global warming potentials of 7.9, 9.1 and 10.6 kg CO2 eq./kg enzyme, respectively. These findings compare well with those of similar studies, though great variation exists in the literature. Through sensitivity analysis, we determine that results are sensitive to assumptions made concerning carbon source origin, applied allocation, market changes, process efficiency and electricity supply.


Furthermore, we find that the contribution of CE production towards the overall life cycle impacts of LCB is significant and that the omission of this sub-process in LCAs of LCB production can compromise their representativeness.


Biomass Cellulase enzyme Glucose Life cycle assessment Lignocellulosic bioethanol Molasses 

Supplementary material

11367_2016_1208_MOESM1_ESM.docx (34 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 34 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Norwegian University of Life SciencesAasNorway
  2. 2.Sogn og Fjordane University CollegeSogndalNorway
  3. 3.Western Norway Research InstituteSogndalNorway
  4. 4.Huawei Technologies Sweden ABKistaSweden

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