An environmental and economic analysis of the wood-pellet chain: two case studies in Southern Italy
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Wood pellet heating systems are considered as an essential component of European plans to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The goal of this analysis was to estimate and compare the environmental impacts and the costs of the production of packed wood pellets. Two pellet production systems, using roundwood logs (case 1) and mainly sawdust (case 2), have been analysed in 2015 in Basilicata region (Southern Italy).
A life cycle assessment (LCA) analysis was applied to calculate the environmental impact indicators of each system, whilst a life cycle cost (LCC) analysis was implemented to evaluate the pellets’ cost production. Hence, the functional unit chosen was 1 t of produced pellets. The system boundaries considered for the purpose of the current investigation were from the tree felling to the pellet packaging. In particular, the following activities were considered: motor-manual felling and delimbing with a chainsaw, timber yarding with a tractor along the forest track, loading and transportation of the logs to the collection point, transportation of timber to the factories for a distance of 35 km, pellet production and pellet packaging in low-density polyethylene bags with a total weight of 15 kg bag−1.
Results and discussion
The production of 1 t of pellets emitted about 83 kg of CO2eq in case 1 and 38 kg in case 2. In addition, 2.7 kg of SO2eq and 0.005 kg of PO3 4-eq were produced in case 1 and 1.4 kg of SO2eq and 0.002 kg of PO3 4-eq in case 2. Mineral extraction was equal to 0.9 MJ surplus energy in both cases. Case 1 led to higher environmental impacts (about 50% more), essentially for the operation of pelletisation, and in particular for the higher consumption of electricity that characterised it, whereas the production costs were 172 and 113 € t−1 in case 1 and case 2, respectively. In both study cases, consumption costs (costs for raw material, electricity consumption, fuel usage) were the most important cost items.
Our studies highlight how, in both cases, the operations carried out in the forest produced the minor part of the environmental impact but, at the same time, were the most expensive operations. Further, our studies show how mixing lumbering by-products (sawdust) and forest management products (lumbers) can be an efficient solution to reduce both manufacturing costs and environmental impacts to produce wood pellets.
KeywordsBio-economy Climate change LCA LCC Sustainable forestry Woody biomass residues
This research was carried out in the framework of the project “Smart Basilicata”, which was approved by the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research (Notice MIUR n. 84/Ric 2012, PON 2007-2013 of 2 March 2012) and was co-funded with the Cohesion Fund 2007-2013 of the Basilicata Regional authority). This work was also co-financed by Regione Basilicata Government-PO FSE Basilicata 2007–2013—from sustainable forest management to market for wood product (Project n. AP/05/2013/REG 2013).
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