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Sources of variability in greenhouse gas and energy balances for biofuel production: a systematic review

Sources of variability in greenhouse gas and energy balances for biofuel production: a systematic review
Sources of variability in greenhouse gas and energy balances for biofuel production: a systematic review
Across the energy sector, alternatives to fossil fuels are being developed, in response to the dual drivers of climate change and energy security. For transport, biofuels have the greatest potential to replace fossil fuels in the short-to medium term. However, the ecological benefits of biofuels and the role that their deployment can play in mitigating climate change are being called into question. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a widely used approach that enables the energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) balance of biofuel production to be calculated. Concerns have nevertheless been raised that published data show widely varying and sometimes contradictory results. This review describes a systematic review of GHG emissions and energy balance data from 44 LCA studies of first- and second-generation biofuels. The information collated was used to identify the dominant sources of GHG emissions and energy requirements in biofuel production and the key sources of variability in published LCA data. Our analysis revealed three distinct sources of variation: (1) 'real' variability in parameters e.g. cultivation; (2) 'methodological' variability due to the implementation of the LCA method; and (3) 'uncertainty' due to parameters rarely included and poorly quantified. There is global interest in developing a sustainability assessment protocol for biofuels. Confidence in the results of such an assessment can only be assured if these areas of uncertainty and variability are addressed. A more defined methodology is necessary in order to allow effective and accurate comparison of results. It is also essential that areas of uncertainty such as impacts on soil carbon stocks and fluxes are included in LCA assessments, and that further research is conducted to enable a robust calculation of impacts under different land-use change scenarios. Without the inclusion of these parameters, we cannot be certain that biofuels are really delivering GHG savings compared with fossil fuels
biofuel, carbon, energy, greenhouse gas, life cycle, assessment, sustainable
1757-1693
99-112
Whitaker, Jeanette
b231477c-5c80-4d8e-b721-1d2a33d96300
Ludley, Katherine E.
6b6602cc-a2b5-4e68-ada9-3137b2220429
Rowe, Rebecca
82078780-059a-4a05-83a9-d636a9939eea
Taylor, Gail
f3851db9-d37c-4c36-8663-e5c2cb03e171
Howard, David C.
61cb083c-6965-4eb9-b530-6c18b475ed87
Whitaker, Jeanette
b231477c-5c80-4d8e-b721-1d2a33d96300
Ludley, Katherine E.
6b6602cc-a2b5-4e68-ada9-3137b2220429
Rowe, Rebecca
82078780-059a-4a05-83a9-d636a9939eea
Taylor, Gail
f3851db9-d37c-4c36-8663-e5c2cb03e171
Howard, David C.
61cb083c-6965-4eb9-b530-6c18b475ed87

Whitaker, Jeanette, Ludley, Katherine E., Rowe, Rebecca, Taylor, Gail and Howard, David C. (2010) Sources of variability in greenhouse gas and energy balances for biofuel production: a systematic review. Global Change Biology Bioenergy, 99-112. (doi:10.1111/j.1757-1707.2010.01047.x).

Record type: Article

Abstract

Across the energy sector, alternatives to fossil fuels are being developed, in response to the dual drivers of climate change and energy security. For transport, biofuels have the greatest potential to replace fossil fuels in the short-to medium term. However, the ecological benefits of biofuels and the role that their deployment can play in mitigating climate change are being called into question. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a widely used approach that enables the energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) balance of biofuel production to be calculated. Concerns have nevertheless been raised that published data show widely varying and sometimes contradictory results. This review describes a systematic review of GHG emissions and energy balance data from 44 LCA studies of first- and second-generation biofuels. The information collated was used to identify the dominant sources of GHG emissions and energy requirements in biofuel production and the key sources of variability in published LCA data. Our analysis revealed three distinct sources of variation: (1) 'real' variability in parameters e.g. cultivation; (2) 'methodological' variability due to the implementation of the LCA method; and (3) 'uncertainty' due to parameters rarely included and poorly quantified. There is global interest in developing a sustainability assessment protocol for biofuels. Confidence in the results of such an assessment can only be assured if these areas of uncertainty and variability are addressed. A more defined methodology is necessary in order to allow effective and accurate comparison of results. It is also essential that areas of uncertainty such as impacts on soil carbon stocks and fluxes are included in LCA assessments, and that further research is conducted to enable a robust calculation of impacts under different land-use change scenarios. Without the inclusion of these parameters, we cannot be certain that biofuels are really delivering GHG savings compared with fossil fuels

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Published date: June 2010
Keywords: biofuel, carbon, energy, greenhouse gas, life cycle, assessment, sustainable

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 160033
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/160033
ISSN: 1757-1693
PURE UUID: 1e10cd6c-62bf-4f84-8e22-3fa8203adb1c
ORCID for Gail Taylor: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0001-8470-6390

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Date deposited: 12 Jul 2010 10:09
Last modified: 03 Dec 2019 01:56

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Contributors

Author: Jeanette Whitaker
Author: Katherine E. Ludley
Author: Rebecca Rowe
Author: Gail Taylor ORCID iD
Author: David C. Howard

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