Current limits of life cycle assessment framework in evaluating environmental sustainability

Case of two evolving biofuel technologies

A. Holma (Corresponding Author), Kati Koponen, R. Antikainen, L. Lardon, P. Leskinen, P. Roux

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The growing need to use biofuel raw materials that do not compete with food and feed have resulted in a growing interest in lignocellulosic materials and microalgae. However, the life cycle environmental benefits of both biofuels have been questioned. The aim of this study was to evaluate how environmental sustainability of forest-based and microalgae biodiesel can be estimated by using the life cycle assessment framework. These biofuel chains were chosen because they are contrasting systems, as the first one is based on a “natural” feedstock production system, while the second one is an entirely anthropogenic system using an artificial infrastructure and external inputs to grow microalgae. This study focuses on life cycle impact categories still under methodological development, namely resource depletion, land use and land use change, water use, soil quality impacts and biodiversity. In addition, climate impacts were quantified in order to exemplify the uncertainty of the results and the complexity of estimating the parameters. This study demonstrates the difficulty to assess the absolute range of the total environmental impacts of the two systems. The results propose that the greenhouse gas emissions of microalgae biodiesel are higher than those of forest residue-based biodiesel, but the results of the microalgae chain are very uncertain due to the early development stage of the technology, and due to assumptions made concerning the electricity mix. On the other hand, the microalgae system has other advantages such as low competition on productive land and low biodiversity impacts. The findings help to recognise the main characteristics of the two production chains, and the main remaining research issues on bioenergy assessment along with the methodological development needs of life cycle approaches.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-228
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Volume54
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fingerprint

Biofuels
biofuel
Sustainable development
Life cycle
life cycle
Biodiesel
sustainability
Biodiversity
Land use
biodiversity
resource depletion
climate effect
bioenergy
soil quality
Gas emissions
Greenhouse gases
production system
Feedstocks
land use change
water use

Keywords

  • biodiesel
  • environmental impacts
  • forest biomass
  • greenhouse gas emission
  • life cycle assessment
  • microalgae

Cite this

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title = "Current limits of life cycle assessment framework in evaluating environmental sustainability: Case of two evolving biofuel technologies",
abstract = "The growing need to use biofuel raw materials that do not compete with food and feed have resulted in a growing interest in lignocellulosic materials and microalgae. However, the life cycle environmental benefits of both biofuels have been questioned. The aim of this study was to evaluate how environmental sustainability of forest-based and microalgae biodiesel can be estimated by using the life cycle assessment framework. These biofuel chains were chosen because they are contrasting systems, as the first one is based on a “natural” feedstock production system, while the second one is an entirely anthropogenic system using an artificial infrastructure and external inputs to grow microalgae. This study focuses on life cycle impact categories still under methodological development, namely resource depletion, land use and land use change, water use, soil quality impacts and biodiversity. In addition, climate impacts were quantified in order to exemplify the uncertainty of the results and the complexity of estimating the parameters. This study demonstrates the difficulty to assess the absolute range of the total environmental impacts of the two systems. The results propose that the greenhouse gas emissions of microalgae biodiesel are higher than those of forest residue-based biodiesel, but the results of the microalgae chain are very uncertain due to the early development stage of the technology, and due to assumptions made concerning the electricity mix. On the other hand, the microalgae system has other advantages such as low competition on productive land and low biodiversity impacts. The findings help to recognise the main characteristics of the two production chains, and the main remaining research issues on bioenergy assessment along with the methodological development needs of life cycle approaches.",
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author = "A. Holma and Kati Koponen and R. Antikainen and L. Lardon and P. Leskinen and P. Roux",
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Current limits of life cycle assessment framework in evaluating environmental sustainability : Case of two evolving biofuel technologies. / Holma, A. (Corresponding Author); Koponen, Kati; Antikainen, R.; Lardon, L.; Leskinen, P.; Roux, P.

In: Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 54, 2013, p. 215-228.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

TY - JOUR

T1 - Current limits of life cycle assessment framework in evaluating environmental sustainability

T2 - Case of two evolving biofuel technologies

AU - Holma, A.

AU - Koponen, Kati

AU - Antikainen, R.

AU - Lardon, L.

AU - Leskinen, P.

AU - Roux, P.

PY - 2013

Y1 - 2013

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AB - The growing need to use biofuel raw materials that do not compete with food and feed have resulted in a growing interest in lignocellulosic materials and microalgae. However, the life cycle environmental benefits of both biofuels have been questioned. The aim of this study was to evaluate how environmental sustainability of forest-based and microalgae biodiesel can be estimated by using the life cycle assessment framework. These biofuel chains were chosen because they are contrasting systems, as the first one is based on a “natural” feedstock production system, while the second one is an entirely anthropogenic system using an artificial infrastructure and external inputs to grow microalgae. This study focuses on life cycle impact categories still under methodological development, namely resource depletion, land use and land use change, water use, soil quality impacts and biodiversity. In addition, climate impacts were quantified in order to exemplify the uncertainty of the results and the complexity of estimating the parameters. This study demonstrates the difficulty to assess the absolute range of the total environmental impacts of the two systems. The results propose that the greenhouse gas emissions of microalgae biodiesel are higher than those of forest residue-based biodiesel, but the results of the microalgae chain are very uncertain due to the early development stage of the technology, and due to assumptions made concerning the electricity mix. On the other hand, the microalgae system has other advantages such as low competition on productive land and low biodiversity impacts. The findings help to recognise the main characteristics of the two production chains, and the main remaining research issues on bioenergy assessment along with the methodological development needs of life cycle approaches.

KW - biodiesel

KW - environmental impacts

KW - forest biomass

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KW - life cycle assessment

KW - microalgae

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DO - 10.1016/j.jclepro.2013.04.032

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JO - Journal of Cleaner Production

JF - Journal of Cleaner Production

SN - 0959-6526

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