Biofuels: LCM of Biofuels
Time: Tuesday, 30/Aug/2011: 9:00am - 10:45am
Session Chair: Martina Fleckenstein
Session Chair: Kalyana Sundram
Location: Room 1
2nd floor


Lack of harmonization of LCA methodologies restricts the use of oil palm industry biomass and bioenergy as renewable energy sources

Kalyana Sundram

Malaysian Palm Oil Council, Malaysia

Renewable energy has been identified globally as a key driver for future economic growth while ensuring minimal environmental harm. Agricultural biomass and waste are increasingly being researched critically as “low risk” raw material sources for renewable energy generation. The Malaysian palm oil industry, with nearly 4.7 million hectares of planted area has a tremendous opportunity for supplying renewable energy raw materials in the form of various biomass-based bioenergy sources and biogas through methane trapping of palm oil mill effluent (POME). It is estimated that these palm based materials could generate up to 1260 MW of energy annually. For Malaysia, this could amount to nearly 10% of the overall energy (electricity) demand in the country. LCA studies have confirmed that palm oil milling effluent may contribute up to 50% of the industry’s GHG emissions and the one of the avenues towards greening this industry should involve methane capture technologies to produce biogas for energy purposes.

This opportunity is currently hampered due to a lack of methodology harmonization in the LCA studies of palm oil as reported through a wide range of GHG reduction values from as low as 19% to as high as 72%. It is of great urgency for international authorities and agencies drafting renewable energy legislations and standards to find a consensus for an universally accepted value for the palm oil’s industry’s GHG savings/emissions. The first step to achieve this is to standardize the various methodologies currently employed, acknowledge the different pathways in the palm oil production process and ensure that local primary data values are reflected in the calculations, as much as possible. These areas need to be addressed urgently to ensure that more accurately benchmarked outputs are incorporated into current policy requirements. Should these changes be implemented, palm-based biofuels and bioenergy could play a more prominent role in meeting the global demand for renewable energy.

Recent developments of biofuels' LCA in Europe: The case of palm oil biofuels

Guido A. Reinhardt

Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Heidelberg, Germany

For the last 20 years the production and use of biofuels have been limited to the biofuel producing country itself. In recent years, the rising prices for oil and natural gas as well as the discussion on the climate have brought the use of biofuels into the centre of public attention, because worldwide biofuel trading started. With this, LCA being a powerful important scientific tool to calculate energy, greenhouse gases and other environmental impli-cations started to become used also in legal and political contexts. This led to some conflicts as some issues addressed in detail with scientifically used LCAs have to be simplified if used in policy.

To address this, palm oil biofuel is a good example: In general, there is no doubt, that the production and use of palm oil for bioenergy has some advantageous benefits compared to conventional fuels. These include e.g. envi-ronmental benefits like savings of fossil fuels and under certain circumstances also savings of greenhouse gases. But also, there are numerous reports about cutting down tropical rainforests which can offset this balance, though different methodological approaches lead to different results. These issues come along with debates on bioenergy in general tackling issues such as indirect land use change which is an unsolved issue in LCA meth-odologies applied for policy.

With such benefits and concerns in mind, numerous activities started in recent years to improve the LCA for these questions and, in general, for the sustainability of palm oil bioenergy and other biofuels. They include the RSPO (Round table of sustainable palm oil), RSB (Roundtable of sustainable biofuels), GBEP (Global Bio-energy Partnership), and the RE-Directive (Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the pro-motion of the use of energy from renewable sources) and national legislations such as the Bio-NachV in Ger-many. In these, LCA methodologies are applied e.g. for greenhouse gas calculations. But in some cases these differ from scientifically sound applications because of the above mentioned simplifications.

The presentation will give an overview about the present state of the art concerning the LCA application on biofuels taking palm oil biofuel as an example. This will include also the activities of RSPO, RSB, RE-Directive and others.

The detailed discussion and presentation of the scientific findings regarding these questions are rounded off by conclusions and recommendations.

Life cycle analysis of Malaysian palm oil biofuel and land use implications

Stefan Unnasch

Life Cycle Associates, United States of America

The life cycle energy inputs and GHG emission from Malaysian palm oil biodiesel were examined in the context of the California LCFS and the U.S. EPA RF2 regulatory frameworks. A range of palm oil processing options and land use effects were examined.

Palm oil production continues to evolve with improvements in yield, oil extraction, and the production of woody co-products. These parameters affect both the direct life cycle emissions as well as estimates of emissions associated with land use conversion. Technology in the palm oil mills for oil extraction is also evolving. Palm oil mills continue to be upgraded with technologies to reduce methane an emission from spent fruit bunches and to displace fossil fuels for crude palm oil processing.

The production of biomass from palm tree residue has a significant effect on the life cycle analysis because biomass displaces fossil fuels used for palm oil processing. In additional, biomass products displace other fossil products which affects emissions associated with land use.

Several biofuel production pathways are also used in the production of palm oil biodiesel including transesterification to biodiesel and hydro-processing to diesel fuel. The life cycle GHG emissions for these different fuel pathways depend upon the treatment of co-products, which include palm kernels, glycerin from biodiesel and bio LPG from the production of hydo-treated palm oil.

Environmental impacts of biofuels: What’s new?

Mireille C. Faist Emmenegger1, Thomas Nemecek2, Andrew Simons3, Christian Bauer3, Rainer Zah1

1Empa, Switzerland; 2Agroscope Reckenholz-Tänikon, Switzerland; 3Paul Scherrer Institut, Switzerland

The study of Zah et al. in 2007 was one of the first to investigate the full life cycle of a large variety of biofuel production pathways and show their overall environmental impacts. One of the main outcomes of this study was that many biofuels present higher overall environmental impacts than the fossil reference (gasoline), even if their impacts on climate change are lower.

Since the publication of the results in 2007, new insights in methodological issues like land use or the calculation of N2O have been gained. Moreover, new crops such as jatropha are being discussed as promising options for the production of biofuels. This paper presents first results of the update and extension of the 2007 study, taking into account the new methodological developments as well as fuel production pathways based on new crops. Possible discrepancies between the results of the two studies will be discussed. Furthermore, we relate the results for new crops to such of more conventional biofuel pathways as well as new fossil reference fuels from unconventional oil resources.


Zah R, Hischier R, Gauch M, Lehmann M, Böni H,Wäger P. Life cycle assessment of energy products: environmental impact assessment of biofuels. Bern: Bundesamt für Energie, Bundesamt für Umwelt, Bundesamt für Landwirtschaft; 2007.

Bioenergy for a low-carbon economy

Martina Fleckenstein

WWF, Germany

In order to keep global climate warming below 2 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels, anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases have to be cut drastically world-wide by 2050. Industrialised countries must even reduce their greenhouse gases by 95 percent by the year 2050. The “Blueprint Germany” (WWF 2010) shows that the transformation from a high-carbon to a low-carbon economy is possible and affordable in Germany. How can and must a highly industrialised and technology-based society be transformed in order to reach this goal? Which technical measures and political instruments are required?

A second study - the “Energy Vision Report”, WWF 2011- examines 100% renewable energy by 2050 from the global perspective.

Both studies reveal that for aviation, shipping and long-haul trucking bioenergy will be the only replacement for fossil fuel. But biofuels and bioliquids have been criticized for increasing the pressure on the limited amount of agricultural land and causing expansion of agricultural land into high biodiversity or high carbon stock areas. Therefore it will be necessary to prove in a reliable way that the advantages of bioenergy are actually higher than the cost of potential environmental damage caused by their production and biofuels for the transport sector and biomass for electricity and heat production have to be produced in a sustainable manner.

Blueprint Germany identifies one way which can lead to reaching the target on a sustainable basis. For the bioenergy sector WWF asks for economically and socially sound production which includes reduction of land use changes and development of a credible tool for accounting of greenhouse gas savings.

Sustainability assessment of biomass utilisation in East Asian countries

Yuki Kudoh1, Masayuki Sagisaka1, Sau Soon Chen2, Jessie C. Elauria3, Shabbir H. Gheewala4, Udin Hasanudin5, Hsien Hui Khoo6, Tomoko Konishi7, Jane Romero8, Yucho Sadamichi1, Xunpeng Shi9, Vinod K. Sharma10

1National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Japan; 2SIRIM Berhad, Malaysia; 3University of the Philippines Los Baños, the Philippines; 4The Joint Graduate School of Energy and Environment, Thailand; 5University of Lampung, Indonesia; 6Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Singapore; 7Fujitsu Laboratories, Japan; 8Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, Japan; 9Economic Research Institute of ASEAN and East Asia, Indonesia; 10Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, India

Since biomass energy is regarded as carbon neutral, it is expected to be introduced worldwide from the viewpoint of GHG reduction and energy supply diversity from fossil fuel. It is also expected that biomass energy can make a significant contribution for economic and social development by industrial promotion and employment creation. On the other hand, there is a rising concern for life cycle GHG reduction effect of biomass energy, food versus feed problem or environment disruption by the expansion of biomass resources production and use as energy. In view of these, it is generally acknowledged that biomass energy must be produced and used in a sustainable way, considering all the positive and negative effect from environmental, economic and social pillars of sustainability.

Although there is high biomass energy potential in East Asia, most of the counties in this region are heavily dependent upon fossil fuel imports to meet their energy needs. Governments in this region are looking for various energy alternatives and in this regard biomass energy has emerged on the forefront, which may assure social benefits due to employment generation through its development as well as GHG reduction and energy security. Taking into these backgrounds into consideration, an expert WG (Working Group) has been formed under the support of Economic Research Institute of ASEAN and East Asia since 2007 and has been conducting researches to assess the sustainability of biomass utilisation. In our 2007 discussions upon ‘Sustainable Biomass Utilisation Vision in East Asia’, we suggested policy recommendations and framed “Asian Biomass Energy Principles”, which were endorsed by the Energy Ministers Meeting of East Asian Summit at Bangkok in August 2008. In response to the request from Energy Ministers of the region to develop a methodology to assess the environmental, economic and social impacts of biomass utilisation for energy production by considering specific regional circumstances, our WG started investigations to ‘Guidelines for Sustainability Assessment of Biomass Utilisation in East Asia’ in 2008. Successively in 2009, our WG field-tested the guidelines developed in 4 pilot studies conducted at India, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines and investigated the sustainability of various feedstocks utilisation for biomass energy from triple bottom line (environmental, economic and social pillars).

This presentation aims at introducing the sustainability assessment method of biomass utilisation our WG developed and addressing the findings obtained from the 4 pilot studies.

Life-cycle greenhouse gas assessment of soybeans

Erica Geraldes Castanheira, Fausto Freire

ADAI - University of Coimbra, Portugal

The quantification of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the entire life-cycle (LC) of biomass-derived products and energy has been an important focus of controversy, mainly due to the very high uncertainties associated with methodological issues, including land use and land use change (LUC). These are important issues in the calculation of GHG emissions but are treated superficially or (more often) not at all in many analysis. The main goal of this paper is to investigate the LC GHG balance of soybeans produced in Latin America, accounting for the effects of the increasing demand for land to produce soybeans and assessing the implications of the different cultivation systems of soybeans.

A life-cycle model and inventory for soybean production has been developed and implemented. The model includes land use conversion necessary to establish soybean plantations, the cultivation process and transport to Europe. A comprehensive evaluation of alternative LUC scenarios has been performed, considering different scenarios of previous land use (forest land, savannas, cropland and grassland). Alternative data on the life cycle inventory for soybean cultivation have been implemented and assessed to analyze the impact of different cultivation systems on the GHG balance. The emissions from LUC have been estimated based on IPCC 2001 (climate change), Directive 2009/28/EC, and a recent Commission Decision on guidelines for the calculation of land carbon stocks. The functional unit used for the soybean production system was 1 ha.

Detailed findings concerning each stage of the soybean LC are presented and discussed. GHG emissions of soybeans greatly depend on the LUC scenario. The most favorable results have been obtained for soybeans planted on previously degraded grassland (negative GHG emissions have been calculated, meaning that CO2 is sequestered in the soil due to LUC). The scenario where natural rainforest land is converted shows the highest GHG emissions. Significantly different results have been obtained depending on the cultivation system, assumptions made when building up the inventory and level of detail of the input data.

This research shows that LUC dominates the LC GHG emissions of soybeans and that the original land use is a critical issue to assure the sustainability of soybeans. It is shown that degraded grassland should be preferably used for soybean cultivation. In addition, significant GHG variations can be observed between the alternative cultivation systems.