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Attributional life cycle assessment of woodchips for bioethanol production

Neupane, Binod, Halog, Anthony, Dhungel, Shashi
Journal of cleaner production 2011 v.19 no.6-7 pp. 733-741
attributional life cycle assessment, bioethanol, carbon, carbon dioxide, carbon dioxide production, energy, energy use and consumption, environmental impact, ethanol, ethanol production, feedstocks, fossil fuels, fuel production, gasoline, greenhouse gas emissions, hardwood, harvesting, infrastructure, lignocellulose, materials life cycle, oils, physical properties, pollutants, transportation, wood chips, United States
Besides the apparent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, other important factors contributing to the renewed interest in biofuels are energy security concerns and the need of sustainable transportation fuel. Nearly 30% of the annual CO₂ emissions in the U.S. come from the transportation sector and more than half of the fuel is imported. Biofuels appear to be a promising option to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and the reliance on imported oil concomitantly. The interest on (ligno) cellulosic ethanol is gaining momentum as corn-based ethanol is criticized for using agricultural outputs for fuel production. Among many lignocellulosic feedstocks, woodchips is viewed as one of the most promising feedstocks for producing liquid transportation fuels. The renewable and carbon neutral nature of the feedstocks, similar chemical and physical properties to gasoline, and the low infrastructure cost due to the availability of fuel flex vehicles and transportation networks make (ligno) cellulosic bioethanol an attractive option. An in-depth LCA of woodchips shows that harvesting and woodchips processing stage and transportation to the facility stage emit large amount of environmental pollutants compared to other life cycle stages of ethanol production. Our analysis also found that fossil fuel consumption and respiratory inorganic effects are the two most critical environmental impact categories in woodchips production. We have used Eco-indicator 99 based cradle-to-gate LCA method with a functional unit of 4 m³ of dry hardwood chips production.