Climate impacts of bioenergy: Inclusion of carbon cycle and albedo dynamics in life cycle impact assessment
Life cycle assessment (LCA) can be an invaluable tool for the structured environmental impact assessment of bioenergy product systems. However, the methodology’s static temporal and spatial scope combined with its restriction to emission-based metrics in life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) inhibits its effectiveness at assessing climate change impacts that stem from dynamic land surface–atmosphere interactions inherent to all biomass-based product systems. In this paper, we focus on two dynamic issues related to anthropogenic land use that can significantly influence the climate impacts of bioenergy systems: i) temporary changes to the terrestrial carbon cycle; and ii) temporary changes in land surface albedo—and illustrate how they can be integrated within the LCA framework.In the context of active land use management for bioenergy, we discuss these dynamics and their relevancy and outline the methodological steps that would be required to derive case-specific biogenic CO2 and albedo change characterization factors for inclusion in LCIA. We demonstrate our concepts and metrics with application to a case study of transportation biofuel sourced from managed boreal forest biomass in northern Europe. We derive GWP indices for three land management cases of varying site productivities to illustrate the importance and need to consider case- or region-specific characterization factors for bioenergy product systems. Uncertainties and limitations of the proposed metrics are discussed.