Carbon Footprint as a Single Indicator in Energy Systems: The Case of Biofuels and CO2 Capture Technologies

  • Diego IribarrenEmail author
  • Javier Dufour
Part of the EcoProduction book series (ECOPROD)


The energy sector is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions, in both the transport and electricity subsectors. Taking into account the current context of the energy sector, relevant case studies concerning biofuels and CO2 capture in power plants are defined and inventoried to evaluate their carbon footprints; the suitability of these carbon footprints as single indicators is then discussed. The methodological framework proposed in the Life Cycle Assessment standards is followed. The fuel systems evaluated involve second-generation biofuels from short-rotation poplar biomass: (i) synthetic fuels (gasoline and diesel) produced via biomass pyrolysis and bio-oil upgrading and (ii) hydrogen produced via biomass gasification and biosyngas processing. Four case studies of coal power plants with CO2 capture technology are also evaluated, including post-combustion CO2 recovery through chemical absorption, membrane separation, cryogenic fractionation, and pressure swing adsorption. Inventory data for the analysis are based on process simulation, robust databases, and scientific literature. The carbon footprints calculated show a promising life-cycle global warming performance of the energy products evaluated. However, conflicting results are found when evaluating other impact categories. Therefore, decisions and recommendations based solely on carbon footprints only capture a partial picture of the environmental performance, although different levels of risk are associated with the use of carbon footprints as single indicators, depending on the type of systems and products under evaluation. The use of multi-indicator approaches is recommended because the inclusion of additional impact categories leads to a more comprehensive evaluation of the environmental performance of energy product systems, thus facilitating a more sensible decision-making process oriented towards environmental sustainability.


Biofuel Carbon dioxide capture Carbon footprint Energy Life cycle assessment Power 



Abiotic depletion potential


Acidification potential


CO2 capture and storage


CO2 capture and utilization


Cumulative non-renewable energy demand


Carbon footprinting


Circulating fluidized bed

CO2 eq

Carbon dioxide equivalent


Data envelopment analysis


European Environment Agency


Eutrophication potential


Functional unit


Gas and char combustor


Greenhouse gas


Global warming impact potential


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change


International Organization for Standardization


Life cycle assessment


Life cycle inventory analysis


Life cycle impact assessment




Ozone layer depletion potential


Publicly available specification


Photochemical oxidant formation potential


Pressure swing adsorption


Renewable energy directive


Steam methane reforming


Technical specification


Water-gas shift



This research has been supported by the Regional Government of Madrid (S2009/ENE-1743) and the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (CTQ2011-28216-C02-02 and ENE2011-29643-C02-01). The authors would like to thank Jens F. Peters and Ana Susmozas for valuable scientific exchange.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Systems Analysis UnitInstituto IMDEA EnergíaMóstolesSpain
  2. 2.Department of Chemical and Energy Technology, ESCETRey Juan Carlos UniversityMóstolesSpain

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