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Life Cycle Assessment of a Willow Bioenergy Cropping System

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The environmental performance of willow biomass crop production systems in New York (NY) is analyzed using life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology. The base-case, which represents current practices in NY, produces 55 units of biomass energy per unit of fossil energy consumed over the biomass crop's 23-year lifetime. Inorganic nitrogen fertilizer inputs have a strong infuence on overall system performance, accounting for 37% of the non-renewable fossil energy input into the system. Net energy ratio varies from 58 to below 40 as a function of fertilizer application rate, but application rate also has implications on the system nutrient balance. Substituting inorganic N fertilizer with sewage sludge biosolids increases the net energy ratio of the willow biomass crop production system by more than 40%. While CO2 emitted in combusting dedicated biomass is balanced by CO2 adsorbed in the growing biomass, production processes contribute to the system's net global warming potential. Taking into account direct and indirect fuel use, N2O emissions from applied fertilizer and leaf litter, and carbon sequestration in below ground biomass and soil carbon, the net greenhouse gas emissions total 0:68 g CO2 eq: MJ-1 biomass produced. Site specific parameters such as soil carbon sequestration could easily offset these emissions resulting in a net reduction of greenhouse gases. Assuming reasonable biomass transportation distance and energy conversion efficiencies, this study implies that generating electricity from willow biomass crops could produce 11 units of electricity perunit of fossil energy consumed. Results from the LCA support the assertion that willow biomass crops are sustainable from an energy balance perspective and contribute additional environmental benefits. 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

Research Areas
Energy Systems
Biosolids , Energy analysis , Fertilizer inputs, Greenhouse gas emissions , Life cycle assessment , Willow biomass production
Publication Type
Journal Article
Digital Object Identifier
Full Citation
Heller, Martin C., Gregory A. Keoleian and Timothy A. Volk. 2003. Life cycle assessment of a willow bioenergy cropping system. Biomass and Bioenergy 25(2): 147-165.