Biofuel Life-Cycle Analysis

  • Jennifer B. DunnEmail author
  • Jeongwoo Han
  • Joaquim Seabra
  • Michael Wang
Part of the Natural Resource Management and Policy book series (NRMP, volume 40)


Life-cycle analysis (LCA) is an important tool used to assess the energy and environmental impacts of biofuels. Here, we review biofuel LCA methodology and its application in transportation fuel regulations in the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom. We examine the application of LCA to the production of ethanol from corn, sugarcane, corn stover, switchgrass, and miscanthus. A discussion of methodological choices such as co-product handling techniques in biofuel LCA is also provided. Further, we discuss the estimation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of land use changes (LUC) potentially caused by biofuels, which can significantly influence LCA results. Finally, we provide results from LCAs of ethanol from various sources. Regardless of feedstock, bioethanol offers reduced GHG emissions over fossil-derived gasoline, even when LUC GHG emissions are included. This is mainly caused by displacement of fossil carbon in gasoline with biogenic carbon in ethanol. Of the ethanol pathways examined, corn ethanol has the greatest life-cycle GHG emissions and offers 30% reduction in life-cycle GHG emissions as compared to gasoline when LUC GHG emissions are included. Miscanthus ethanol demonstrates the highest life-cycle GHG emissions reductions compared to gasoline, 109%, when LUC GHG emissions are included.


Life cycle analysis Land use change Greenhouse gas emissions 





Agro-ecological zone


Brazilian Development Bank


Brazilian land use model


California Air Resources Board


Carbon calculator for land use change from biofuels production


Computable general equilibrium


Center for Global Environmental Education


Combined heat and power


Carbon online estimator


Department of Energy


European Commission


Economic input-output


Energy Independence and Security Act


Environmental Protection Agency


European Union


Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute—Center for Agricultural and Rural Development


Forestry and agricultural sector optimization model


Fuel quality directive


Greenhouse gas


Greenhouse gases, regulated emissions, and energy use in tranpsortation


Global trade analysis project


Harvested wood product


Institute for international trade negotiations


International energy agency


International Food Policy Research Institute


International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis


Indirect land use change


Intergovernmental panel on climate change


Life-cycle analysis


Low-carbon fuel standard


Land use change


National Council for Air and Stream Improvement


Partial equilibrium




Renewable energy directive


Renewable fuel standard


Renewable transport fuels obligation


Soil organic carbon


Soil organic matter


Short rotation woody crops


United Kingdom


Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association


United States Department of Agriculture







This work is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Basic Energy Sciences, Office of Science, under contract # DE-AC02-06CH11357.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer B. Dunn
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jeongwoo Han
    • 1
  • Joaquim Seabra
    • 2
  • Michael Wang
    • 1
  1. 1.Energy Systems DivisionArgonne National LaboratoryArgonneUSA
  2. 2.UNICAMPCampinasBrazil

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