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Research Report

Analysis of the potential of sustainable forest-based bioenergy for climate change mitigation

David Neil Bird
Giuliana Zanchi
Naomi Pena
Petr Havlík
Dorian Frieden
Copyright Date: Jan. 1, 2011
Pages: 38
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-1)

    Current climate mitigation policies are likely to become a strong driver of increased demand for renewable energy sources and particularly for bioenergy. Therefore, it is becoming more and more important to assess the potential amount of biomass that will be available for future energy production and the costs, in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, connected to extraction of these potentials. The estimate of emissions produced by different bioenergy sources is important for evaluating the advantages of biomass-based energy compared to fossil fuel use. This allows promotion of energy sources that are the most advantageous for climate mitigation.

    During production...

  2. (pp. 2-4)

    Results and assumptions made in available global biomass potential assessments vary significantly from study to study. One recent study compared the results from 19 bioenergy potential estimates (Thrän et al. 2010). It shows that biomass potential estimates differ in the definition of potential that is considered (theoretical, technical, economical or implementable), the time horizon, the biomass sources included and the geographical resolution. Most of the analysed studies estimated the technical potential, but often studies do not clearly define which potential is analysed and which biomass sources are included in each biomass category. As a consequence, different types of potential have...

  3. (pp. 5-12)

    As demonstrated in Bird et al. (2010) it is important to include dead wood, litter and soil organic carbon (DWLSOC) in the estimates of the emissions from land use change. In the example studies in this paper, not including these three pools underestimates the sequestration in afforestation and reforestation activities by 12% and underestimates the emissions from deforestation activities by 20%. Underestimating sequestration is ‘conservative’ since sequestration benefits the environment. However, underestimating emissions from deforestation is significant, and even more so in the case of biofuels since the majority of the predicted land use change due to biofuels is deforestation...

  4. (pp. 13-14)

    With the addition of DWLSOC arises the question, ‘will greenhouse gas emissions be reduced if globally we use biofuels in the amount predicted in place of fossil fuels?’ We have answered this question by including the estimates of the GHG emissions from the cultivation, processing, transport and distribution of biofuels, the non-LUC components to the emissions due to LUC. For example, if corn is transformed into ethanol, the non-LUC components are the emissions for using machinery to plough the land, transport the biomass to the ethanol plant, convert the biomass to ethanol and distribute the ethanol to the consumer. There...

  5. (pp. 15-20)

    Pena et al. (2011) described and evaluated a range of alternative accounting systems for bioenergy. The text that follows is a recapitulation of this activity and is provided for readers not familiar with that publication.

    There are three basic philosophies underlying the accounting of GHG emissions from bioenergy:

    Combustion factor = 0: CO2 emissions produced when biomass is burned for energy are not counted at the point of combustion; the emissions are accounted for in the land use sector as carbon stock losses;

    Combustion factor = 1: CO2 emissions produced when biomass is burned for energy are counted at the...

  6. (pp. 21-22)

    The goal of Activity 2.1 in the Europe Aid Project ‘Bioenergy, sustainability and trade-offs: Can we avoid deforestation while promoting bioenergy?’ is to create an improved analysis of the potential of sustainable forest-based bioenergy for climate change mitigation.

    To do so we have improved on an existing estimate of land use change and GHG emissions from biofuels by:

    Adding emissions from DWLSOC to the existing emission estimate;

    Adding a sensitivity analysis of emissions to both the assumed DWLSOC carbon stocks and life cycle assessment of the non-LUC emissions;

    Investigating different options for accounting for the emissions from production and combustion...