Incorporating Uncertainty Analysis Into Life Cycle Estimates of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Biomass Production

Published in: Biomass and Bioenergy, v. 35, no. 7, July 2011, p. 2619-2626

by David R. Johnson, Henry H. Willis, Aimee E. Curtright, Constantine Samaras, Timothy Skone

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Before further investments are made in utilizing biomass as a source of renewable energy, both policy makers and the energy industry need estimates of the net greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions expected from substituting biobased fuels for fossil fuels. Such GHG reductions depend greatly on how the biomass is cultivated, transported, processed, and converted into fuel or electricity. Any policy aiming to reduce GHGs with biomass-based energy must account for uncertainties in emissions at each stage of production, or else it risks yielding marginal reductions, if any, while potentially imposing great costs. This paper provides a framework for incorporating uncertainty analysis specifically into estimates of the life cycle GHG emissions from the production of biomass. We outline the sources of uncertainty, discuss the implications of uncertainty and variability on the limits of life cycle assessment (LCA) models, and provide a guide for practitioners to best practices in modeling these uncertainties. The suite of techniques described herein can be used to improve the understanding and the representation of the uncertainties associated with emissions estimates, thus enabling improved decision making with respect to the use of biomass for energy and fuel production.

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