Assessing Options for Electricity Generation from Biomass on a Life Cycle Basis: Environmental and Economic Evaluation

Abstract

Co-firing biomass with coal is being increasingly seen in the EU region as an option that could contribute not only towards reaching the Kyoto targets on greenhouse gas emissions but also towards compliance with the EU directives on renewable energy and large combustion plants. Perennial grasses, short rotation coppice, seasonal agricultural residues and waste forestry wood are all considered as viable alternatives. However, although the use of biomass for electricity generation could help reduce direct emissions of pollutants generated during combustion of coal, including carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the whole life cycle implications of using biomass are less clear. This paper uses a life cycle approach to evaluate the environmental impacts and economic costs of co-firing with coal three types of biomass: miscanthus, willow and waste forest wood. Both direct combustion and gasification of biomass are considered. The results of life cycle assessment indicate that all biomass options lead to a substantial reduction in the environmental impacts compared to the coal-only power generation. Overall, use of waste wood appears to be environmentally the most sustainable option. In comparison to direct combustion, biomass gasification has higher global warming potential due to the higher consumption of biomass and energy for gasification. The results of the life cycle economic costing show that electricity from biomass is economically less attractive than from coal. Direct firing is two times more expensive than coal and gasification up to three times. Therefore, while attractive from the environmental point of view, biomass appears currently to be less sustainable economically.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

Notes

  1. 1.

    It is assumed that the electricity consumed in the gasification process is obtained from the UK grid and hence considered as part of the background system.

References

  1. 1.

    IEA: CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion: 1971/2006. International Energy Agency, Paris, vol. 21, pp. 1–530 (2008)

  2. 2.

    IEA: CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion, IEA Statistics (2010 edn), Highlights, International Energy Agency, Paris (2010)

  3. 3.

    IEA: World Energy Outlook 2009 (WEO 2009), OECD/IEA, Paris (2009)

  4. 4.

    FAO: FAO Yearbook of Forest Products 2000. FAO Statistics Series No. 158, Rome (2002)

  5. 5.

    Parikka, M.: Global biomass fuel resources. Biomass Bioenergy 27(6), 613–620 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    EC: Biomass Action Plan. Communication from the commission, COM(2005) 628 final, SEC(2005) 1573, Brussels, 7.12.2005 (2005)

  7. 7.

    EC: Directive 2001/80/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2001 on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from large combustion plants. Off. J. Eur. Commun., L 309/1, 27.11.2001 (2001a)

  8. 8.

    EC: Directive 2001/77/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 September 2001 on the Promotion of Electricity Produced from Renewable Energy Sources in the Internal Electricity Market. L 283/33, 27.10.2001 (2001b)

  9. 9.

    Lewandowski, I., Heinz, A.: Delayed harvest of miscanthus—influences on biomass quantity and quality and environmental impacts of energy production. Eur. J. Agron. 19(1), 45–63 (2003)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Weiss, M., Patel, M., Heilmeier, H., Bringezu, S.: Applying distance-to-target weighing methodology to evaluate the environmental performance of bio-based energy, fuels, and materials. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 50(3), 260–281 (2007)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Kaltschmitt, M., Reinhardt, G.A., Stelzer, T.: Life cycle analysis of biofuels under different environmental aspects. Biomass Bioenergy 12(2), 121–134 (1997)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    DEFRA: Planting and growing miscanthus—best practice guidellines. PB No. 5424, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, London (2001)

  13. 13.

    Heller, M.C., Keoleian, G.A., Mann, M.K., Volk, T.A.: Life cycle energy and environmental benefits of generating electricity from willow biomass. Renew. Energy 29(7), 1023–1042 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Hartmann, D., Kaltschmitt, M.: Electricity generation from solid biomass via co-combustion with coal-energy and emission balances from a German case study. Biomass Bioenergy 16(6), 397–406 (1999)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Koukouzas, N., Katsiadakis, A., Karlopoulos, E., Kakaras, E.: Co-gasification of solid waste and lignite—a case study for Western Macedonia. Waste Manage. 28, 1263–1275 (2008)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Odeh, N.A., Cockerill, T.T.: Life cycle analysis of UK coal fired power plants. Energy Convers. Manage. 49(2), 212–220 (2008)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Öko-Institut: Global Emission Model of Integrated System (GEMIS), v4.5. Darmstadt, Germany. http://www.oeko.de (2009)

  18. 18.

    IPA Energy Consulting: The Economics of Co-Firing Final Report to Department of Trade and Industry http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file34449.pdf (2006)

  19. 19.

    ISO: Environmental management—life cycle assessment—requirements and guidelines. ISO 14044:2006. International Organization for Standardization, Geneva, Switzerland (2006)

  20. 20.

    Ecoinvent: Ecoinvent v1.3 Database. Swiss Centre for Life Cycle Inventories, Dübendorf, Switzerland (2007)

  21. 21.

    Guinée, J.B., Gorrée, M., Heijungs, R., Huppes, G., Kleijn, R., de Koning, A., van Oers, L., Wegener Sleeswijk, A., Suh, S., Udo de Haes, H.A., de Bruijn, J.A., van Duin, R., Huijbregts, M.A.J.: Handbook on life cycle assessment. Operational Guide to the ISO Standards. Series: Eco-Efficiency in Industry and Science. Kluwer, Dordrecht (2002)

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

The work presented in this paper is part of two projects funded by EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council): Pollutants in the Urban Environment (PUrE), funded under the Sustainable Urban Environment (SUE) programme (grant no. EP/C532651/2); and Calculation of Carbon Footprints over the Life Cycle of Industrial Activities, funded under the Carbon Vision Industry programme (grant no. EP/F003501/1). This funding is gratefully acknowledged.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Adisa Azapagic.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Jeswani, H.K., Gujba, H. & Azapagic, A. Assessing Options for Electricity Generation from Biomass on a Life Cycle Basis: Environmental and Economic Evaluation. Waste Biomass Valor 2, 33–42 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12649-010-9057-z

Download citation

Keywords

  • Biomass
  • Climate change
  • Electricity generation
  • Economic assessment
  • Life cycle assessment