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LCA of environmental and socio-economic impacts related to wood energy production in alpine conditions: Valle di Fiemme (Italy)

Valente, Clara, Spinelli, Raffaele, Hillring, Bengt Gunnar
Journal of cleaner production 2011 v.19 no.17-18 pp. 1931-1938
alternative fuels, bark, biofuels, biomass, case studies, combustion, employment, energy, energy use and consumption, forests, fuel oils, fuels (fire ecology), global warming, greenhouse gas emissions, harvesting, heat, life cycle assessment, logging, natural gas, socioeconomics, supply chain, system boundary, trees, wood products, Italy
An extended Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is performed for evaluating the impacts of a woody biomass supply chain for heating plants in the alpine region. Three main aspects of sustainability are assessed: greenhouse gas emissions, represented by global warming potential (GWP) impact category, costs and direct employment potential. We investigate a whole tree system (innovative logging system) where the harvest of logging residues is integrated into the harvest of conventional wood products. The case study is performed in Valle di Fiemme in Trentino region (North Italy) and includes theoretical and practical elements. The system boundary is the alpine forest fuel system, from logging operations at the forest stand to combustion of woody biofuels at the heating plant. The functional unit is 1m³ solid over bark of woody biomass, delivered to the district heating plant in Cavalese (Trento). The relative sustainability of traditional and innovative systems is compared and energy use is estimated. Results show that the overall GWP and costs are about 13kg CO₂ₑqᵤᵢᵥₐₗₑₙₜ and 42 euro per functional unit respectively for the innovative system. Along the product supply chain, chipping contributes the greatest share of GWP and energy use, while extraction by yarder has the highest financial costs. The GWP is reduced by 2.3 ton CO₂ₑqᵤᵢᵥₐₗₑₙₜ when bioenergy substitutes fuel oil and 1.7 ton CO₂ₑqᵤᵢᵥₐₗₑₙₜ when it substitutes natural gas. The sensitivity analysis illustrates that variations in fuel consumption and hourly rates of costs have a great influence on chipping operation and extraction by cable yarder concerning GWP and financial analysis, respectively. This is confirmed by sensitivity analysis. Better technologies, the use of biofuels along the product supply chain and more efficient systems might reduce these impacts. Replacing the traditional system with the innovative one reduces emissions and costs. A low energy input ratio is required for harvesting logging residues. The direct employment potential is a conflicting aspect and needs further investigations.