Is land use impact assessment in LCA applicable for forest biomass value chains? Findings from comparison of use of Scandinavian wood, agro-biomass and peat for energy

Tuomas Helin (Corresponding Author), Anne Holma, Sampo Soimakallio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: A framework for the inclusion of land use impact assessment and a set of land use impact indicators has been recently proposed for life cycle assessment (LCA) and no case studies are available for forest biomass. The proposed methodology is tested for Scandinavian managed forestry; a comparative case study is made for energy from wood, agro-biomass and peat; and sensitivity to forest management options is analysed. Methods: The functional unit of this comparative case study is 1 GJ of energy in solid fuels. The land use impact assessment framework of the United Nations Environment Programme and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (UNEP-SETAC) is followed and its application for wood biomass is critically analysed. Applied midpoint indicators include ecological footprint and human appropriation of net primary production, global warming potential indicator for biomass (GWPbio-100) and impact indicators proposed by UNEP-SETAC on ecosystem services and biodiversity. Options for forest biomass land inventory modelling are discussed. The system boundary covers only the biomass acquisition phase. Management scenarios are formulated for forest and barley biomass, and a sensitivity analysis focuses on impacts of land transformations for agro-biomass. Results and discussion: Meaningful differences were found in between solid biofuels from distinct land use classes. The impact indicator results were sensitive to land occupation and transformation and differed significantly from inventory results. Current impact assessment method is not sensitive to land management scenarios because the published characterisation factors are still too coarse and indicate differences only between land use types. All indicators on ecosystem services and biodiversity were sensitive to the assumptions related with land transformation. The land occupation (m2a) approach in inventory was found challenging for Scandinavian wood, due to long rotation periods and variable intensities of harvests. Some suggestions of UNEP-SETAC were challenged for the sake of practicality and relevance for decision support. Conclusions: Land use impact assessment framework for LCA and life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) indicators could be applied in a comparison of solid bioenergy sources. Although forest bioenergy has higher land occupation than agro-bioenergy, LCIA indicator results are of similar magnitude or even lower for forest bioenergy. Previous literature indicates that environmental impacts of land use are significant, but it remains questionable if these are captured with satisfactory reliability with the applied LCA methodology, especially for forest biomass. Short and long time perspectives of land use impacts should be studied in LCA with characterisation factors for all relevant timeframes, not only 500 years, with a forward-looking perspective. Characterisation factors need to be modelled further for different (forest) land management intensities and for peat excavation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)770-785
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Barley
  • bioenergy
  • indicators
  • land use
  • LCIA
  • peat
  • reed canary grass
  • wood


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