Environmental life cycle assessment of lignocellulosic conversion to ethanol: A review

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Bioenergy from lignocellulosic biomass offers the potential to provide a significant source of clean, low carbon and secure energy. In recent years, a number of studies have been carried out to assess the environmental performance of lignocellulosic ethanol fuel. However, the complexity of biofuel systems generates significantly different results due to the differences in input data, methodologies applied, and local geographical conditions. Moreover, much attention has been placed on assessing climate change potential and energy consumption. This study draws on 53 published life cycle assessment of the lignocellulosic ethanol. More than half of the articles reviewed focus on assessing greenhouse gas (GHG) emission or fossil energy consumption or combination of both. All studies but two reviewed conclude that there is a reduction of GHG emission when using lignocellulosic ethanol in comparison to fossil fuel reference system. However, different studies have reported different sources contributing to GHG emission: some reports majority of GHG emissions come from biomass cultivation stage; others argue significant GHG emissions from ethanol conversion process. All articles suggest a reduction of fossil consumption in all cases of ethanol fuel. Contrary results for the impact of acidification and eutrophication potential from lignocellulosic ethanol are also observed-some reports less impact in comparison to conventional gasoline whiles others report significant increase of acidification and eutrophication potential by ethanol production. Studies also show water consumption varies significantly depending on biomass types, irrigation requirement, and regional irrigation practices; with different findings on whether agricultural practices or ethanol conversion being the main sources for water consumption. Contrary findings on emissions contributing to ecotocixity and human health have also been reported with some being favourable while others not. Results from the literature also suggest strong dependency of LCA results on system boundary, functional unit, data quality and allocation methods chosen.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4638-4650
JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2012


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