A study published in the journal Biomass & Bioenergy sets out to calculate the true costs and benefits associated with replacing fossil fuels with bioenergy in varying forms for numerous s applications. The life cycle assessment (LCA) approach takes into account entire bioenergy systems, including every step along the supply chain.
The study led by Patricia Thornley of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester has been selected for Elsevier’s Atlas Award.
“The cost of bioenergy systems per unit of greenhouse gas reduced is really important because we all want to do the sensible environmental thing, but we don’t want excessive cost attached to it,” Thornley explained. “In this paper we brought environmental and economic factors together to then showcase how different bioenergy systems contribute to future energy systems.”
Their assessment takes all of the hidden costs of bioenergy’s production into account, including greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production and transport of bioenergy resources, to provide a solid foundation for making decisions about the future of energy.
The results confirm that bioenergy can deliver substantial and cost-effective greenhouse gas reductions, however the most sensible use of limited bioenergy resources is also heavily dependent on how one frames the goals. For instance, the assessment shows that large-scale electricity systems are best in terms of absolute greenhouse gas reductions per unit of energy generated. Wood chips used in medium-scale district heating boilers on the other hand, deliver the highest greenhouse gas reductions per unit of harvested biomass.
The findings of the study are especially well timed as the European Union is currently reviewing its bioenergy policy.
Co-authors of the study are Paul Gilbert also from the University of Manchester’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Simon Shackley and Jim Hammond both from the UK Biochar Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh. The research was funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council as part of the SUPERGEN Bioenergy Consortium and SUPERGEN Bioenergy hub.