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Life cycle assessment of biodiesel production from beef tallow in Brazil

Sousa, Vitor M. Z., Luz, Sandra M., Caldeira-Pires, Armando, Machado, Frederico S., Silveira, Cristiano M.
The international journal of life cycle assessment 2017 v.22 no.11 pp. 1837-1850
acidification, biodiesel, carbon, carbon dioxide, cattle, electric energy consumption, emissions factor, environmental impact, eutrophication, fermentation, fertilizers, fossils, fuel production, global warming, global warming potential, grasses, greenhouse gas emissions, inventories, methane, methane production, pastures, petroleum, prices, raw materials, soybean oil, tallow, thermal energy, transportation, urine, water footprint, water power, water utilization, Brazil
PURPOSE: Renewable energy sources, particularly biofuels, are being promoted as possible solutions to address global warming and the depletion of petroleum resources. In this context, biodiesel is a solution to the growing demand for renewable fuels. Beef tallow is the second leading raw material after soybean oil used in biodiesel production in Brazil. Evaluating and addressing the environmental impacts of beef tallow biodiesel are of great importance for its life cycle impact assessment (LCIA). METHODS: Inventory data on tallow and biodiesel production were collected from the literature and from a primary data source provided by a Brazilian biodiesel plant. The modeled system represents the Brazilian reality for the 2005–2015 decade. Subsequently, the environmental impacts of beef tallow biodiesel production were characterized for a selection of environmental impact indicators: global warming potential (GWP), acidification potential (AP), eutrophication potential (EP), and water footprint (assessed based on blue water use (BWU) and blue water consumption (BWC) indicators). From the characterization of these environmental burdens, the main sources of environmental impact were evaluated. Sensitivity analysis was conducted to verify the influence of key parameters (emission factor, energy consumption, and prices) on changes in the environmental load of beef tallow biodiesel. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: Carbon flux results indicate that beef tallow biodiesel production acts as a carbon source. Namely, pasture carbon uptake (91% of all carbon input) is lower than combined biogenic and fossil CO₂ emissions, which are controlled by cattle enteric fermentation as methane (72%) and by thermal energy processes (25%). Otherwise, thermal energy production accounts for 80% of total AP emissions, and cattle urine and manure are responsible for 70% of total EP emissions. The BWC and BWU water footprints of the whole process are controlled by electricity usage, which was greater than 90% for each indicator due to the high proportion of total energy (70%) derived from hydropower in Brazil. The environmental burden from transportation is minimal compared to other processes. Tallow biodiesel GWP can be improved if the carbon uptake potential from grass and low fertilizer utilization are accurately considered, as observed in the sensitivity analysis. For each MJ of beef tallow biodiesel produced, 4.6 g of CO₂ is released to the atmosphere. CONCLUSIONS: Methane emissions, mainly due to cattle enteric fermentation, and thermal energy processes at the industrial units were the main sources of environmental GWP, AP, and EP impacts. Otherwise, water footprint indicators were associated with the high proportion of total energy derived from hydropower in Brazil.