Friday, June 15, 2012

Sustainabilty of short rotation plantations

The following paper came up recently, focusing on the sustainability of short rotation plantations for bioenergy in Sweden. There are already very good works on the topic based on experimental results. In this case, although we had to rely in some assumptions, as it was very difficult to find all the necessary parameters, I think we had add some interesting contribution to the sustainability assessment of the plantations: the data is as much as possible based on empirical sources, covering a large sample of commercial plantations during the last decades in Sweden. The paper builds on our previous research on willow productivity. The abstract and the original paper can be found at:

GONZALEZ-GARCIA S, MOLA-YUDEGO B, DIMITRIOU J, ARONSSON, P, MURPHY R J. 2012. Environmental assessment of energy production based on long term commercial willow plantations in Sweden. Science of the Total Environment 421:210-219.

The present paper analyzed the environmental assessment of short rotation willow plantations in Sweden based on the standard framework of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) from the International Standards Organisation. The analysis is focused on two alternative management regimes for willow plantations dedicated to biomass production for energy purposes. The data used included the averages of a large sample of commercial plantations. One of the scenarios is carried out under nitrogen based fertilized conditions and the other under non-fertilized management with total biomass yields (dry weight) of 140 t/ha and 86 t/ha over a 21 and 22-year life time respectively. The environmental profile was analyzed in terms of the potentials for abiotic depletion, acidification, eutrophication, global warming, ozone layer depletion, photochemical oxidant formation, human toxicity, fresh water aquatic ecotoxicity, marine aquatic ecotoxicity and terrestrial ecotoxicity. In addition, an energy analysis was performed using the cumulative energy demand method (CED). The application of nitrogen based fertilizers allows an increase in the biomass yield per ha of up to 40% although the contributions to almost all impact categories, particularly the eutrophication potential and toxicity potential impact categories are also considerably higher. Conversely, due to the higher biomass yields achieved with fertilization of these willow plantations, that regime presents a better overall environmental profile in terms of energy yield and global warming potential.

► Swedish commercial short rotation willow plantations were assessed from a Life Cycle Assessment perspective. ► Two alternative management regimes for energy based willow plantations were compared. ► The data used included the averages of a large sample of commercial plantations. ► The processes behind the highest impact contributions were identified. ► Plantations under fertilized conditions present better results in terms of energy yield and global warming potential.

Commercial plantations; Life Cycle Assessment (LCA); Salix spp.; Short rotation coppice (SRC); Sweden

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