Report: Assessment of sustainability based on LCA - case of woody biomass

Maria Emiliana FORTUNĂ, Isabela Maria SIMION, Maria GAVRILESCU
“Gheorghe Asachi” Technical University of Iasi, Faculty of Chemical Engineering and Environmental Protection, Department of Environmental Engineering and Management,  Romania

Biomass represents both the dominant source of feedstock for biotechnological processes and the renewable foreseeable sustainable source of organic fuels, chemicals, and other materials. In particular, woody biomass is one of the most efficient sources for renewable energy on a large scale. Converting biomass to fuels, pulp and paper, chemicals, power, and/or feed is essential to be analyzed in terms of economic viability, as well as environmental friendliness. The benefits of using biomass as feedstock for bioenergy may include: the reduction of the use of nonrenewable fuels, less dependence on foreign fuels, stabilization of income in rural areas, and reduced carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. Taking into account the current data in the literature and some Romanian practices, an analysis was developed considering woody biomass use.

The paper discusses some stages of the biomass life cycle: extraction of forestry biomass–transport–biomass valorization. The way the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach was further applied to assess the environmental impacts associated with the production of electricity and biofuels, starting from resource extraction until the end-of-life, is addressed. LCA has been discussed in relation to the estimation of biomass distribution on the land together with an evaluation of different chains, including harvesting, biomass transport, and final utilization through combustion and biorefining. System boundaries address cradle-to-gate, gate-to-gate and cradleto-grave approaches.

The results of the analysis based on LCA allowed for the identification of some environmental indicators that make sustainability criteria measurable, and also the assessment of the potential for sustainable valorization of biomass, together with benefits and drawbacks from the economic, environmental and managerial points of view.

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