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Sustainability of bioenergy chains: the result is in the details

By J.M.C. van Dam


This thesis investigated how the feasibility and sustainability of large-scale bioenergy production, supply and use for local use or trade can be determined ex ante on a regional level, taking into account the complexities and variabilities of the underlying factors like food demand and land use. Recently, governments, NGOs, companies and international organizations (e.g. Dutch government, Solidaridad, Shell or FAO) have taken initiatives to guarantee the sustainable production and use of biomass. Uncertainties on the feasibility, implementation and costs of international biomass certification systems and the compliance with international laws and agreements have to be resolved. A developed software tool shows that it is possible to allow users from various regions to use one methodology and tool to calculate the GHG balances and cost-effectiveness of biomass energy systems. Core methodological issues are accommodated in the tool. One of the case studies demonstrates e.g. that the allocation procedure should be carefully defined as is shown by the variation in results, which is 35 to 50 kg CO2 eq./GJ delivered in GHG emissions. The technical potentials and cost-supply curves of bioenergy are assessed for Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC) on a regional level. The more favourable scenarios to 2030 show a highest potential of 11.7 EJ. In most CEEC, bulk of the biomass potential can be produced at costs below 2€/GJ. The cost performance of energy carriers supplied from the CEEC is assessed for a set of bioenergy chains. Ethanol can be produced at 12 to 21 €/GJ if the biomass conversion is performed at selected destinations in Western Europe or at 15 to 18 €/GJ if biomass to ethanol conversion takes place where the biomass is produced. A case in Argentina shows the potential and economic feasibility of large-scale bioenergy production from soybeans and switchgrass, cultivated in La Pampa province. For the various scenarios to 2030, biodiesel from soybeans can be produced at a cost of 0.3 to 1.2 US$/liter for local use and at a cost of 0.5 to 1.7 US$/liter for export to the Netherlands. Electricity from switchgrass pellets, produced in the Netherlands, can be produced at a cost of 0.06 to 0.08 US$ /kWh. The socio-economic and environmental impacts are assessed ex ante for large-scale bioenergy production in La Pampa province (Argentina), based on a set of defined criteria and indicators. The carbon stock change for switchgrass ranges from 0 to 1.2 ton C/ha per year and for soybean from -1.2 to 0 ton C/ha per year, depending on the scenario. The annual soil loss, compared to the reference land-use system, is 2 to 10 ton/ha for the soybean bioenergy chain and 1 to 2 ton/ha for the switchgrass bioenergy chain. This thesis demonstrates that the feasibility and sustainability of large-scale biomass production on the short and longer term can be assessed ex ante. As the performance of biomass production and supply chains can differ strongly in space and time, embedding an impact analysis in a scenario based approach is a key way to tackle this

Publisher: Utrecht University
Year: 2009
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