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Challenges for biofuels: New life cycle assessment report from Energy Biosciences Institute
Date:2/9/2011

Peter Berck, Maximilian Auffhammer, Tim Lipman, Margaret Torn, Eric Masanet, Agnes Lobscheid, Nicholas Santero, Umakant Mishra, Audrey Barrett, Matt Bomberg, Kevin Fingerman, Corinne Scown, Bret Strogen and Arpad Horvath. McKone and Horvath are the co-leaders of EBI's Life-Cycle Assessment Program.

A life-cycle assessment (LCA) is typically used to evaluate the potential impact of a product or activity on human health and the environment over the entire cradle-to-grave life cycle of that product or activity. In applying the LCA approach to advanced biofuels, McKone, Horvath and their co-authors identified the following seven grand challenges.

  • Understanding farmers, feedstock options, and land use Biomass production for biofuels could displace existing products from land currently used for food, forage and fiber, which could increase the price of these goods in global markets. It could also induce deforestation that would exacerbate global climate change.

  • Predicting biofuel production technologies and practices - Many options exist for biofuel production processes and final products. Much of the variability among LCA results for biofuels arises from lack of knowledge about how these different possible production and operation processes will evolve.

  • Characterizing tailpipe emissions and their health consequences - Credible and reliable impact estimates for biofuel combustion are needed, but few studies of the health impacts from transportation fuel use have extended beyond air pollutants. Those that included an explicit metric for health damages emphasized mortality rather than morbidity and the overall disease burden.

  • Incorporating spatial heterogeneity in inventories and assessments - The health consequences of pollutant emissions vary depending upon where the pollutant is released, with factors such as proximity to large populations looming large. Geographical variability also influences other
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Contact: Lynn Yarris
lcyarris@lbl.gov
510-486-5375
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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