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Comparative life cycle assessment of biomass utilization for electricity generation in the European Union and the United States

Beagle, E., Belmont, E.
Energy policy 2019 v.128 pp. 267-275
European Union, bioenergy, biomass, coal, electricity generation, energy policy, greenhouse gas emissions, life cycle assessment, models, pellets, power plants, sea transportation, supply chain, wood chips, United States
Biomass utilization is a strategy to decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the European Union (EU) but bioenergy in the United States (US) is currently limited. As a result, biomass is increasingly exported from the US to the EU, but changes to the policy landscape are poised to alter this. This study utilizes Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to assess impacts of biomass transportation on bioenergy life cycle GHG emissions. Transportation modes considered include truck, train and sea freight and each are assessed at realistic distances expected in bioenergy supply chains. Emissions for biomass firing alone and co-firing with coal using wood chips and pellets are compared to a baseline coal-fired power plant. Results include life cycle emissions for each case, and sensitivity analysis is presented for variation in power plant efficiency and biomass heating value. A generalized model for estimation of bioenergy emissions is presented. In nearly all cases, biomass utilization for electricity production produces lower life cycle GHG emissions compared to the coal baseline, with emission reductions as high as 76%. Utilization in the US and EU have similar overall emissions at long US distances. Policy implications are discussed in the context of current US and EU policies.