2024 journal article

Evaluating biomass sustainability: Why below-ground carbon sequestration matters


author keywords: Life cycle assessment; Biomass production; Soil organic carbon sequestration; Carbon footprint; Net zero emissions
Source: Web Of Science
Added: March 18, 2024

Biomass, as a raw material, has been identified as a crucial component of decarbonization strategies to mitigate climate change. Decisions on which biomass should be targeted for different purposes are dependent on variables such as availability, chemical composition, and sustainability. Consumer perception often positions non-wood sources, such as bamboo, as environmentally preferable feedstocks for fiber-based product production. Yet, this perceived environmental benefit lacks robust scientific substantiation and standardized methodologies. This study addresses this gap by conducting a cradle-to-gate life cycle assessment (LCA) of twelve biomass production systems encompassing tree plantations, dedicated crops, and agricultural residues for energy and bioproducts manufacture. The evaluated feedstocks include southern softwood, wheat straw, rice straw, rice husk, hemp hurd, sugarcane bagasse, switchgrass, biomass sorghum (United States), eucalyptus (Brazil), bamboo (China), and northern softwood (Canada). Incorporating a critical yet often overlooked factor, this LCA integrates the potential soil organic carbon sequestration (SOC) via below-ground biomass for each biomass type. This consideration significantly alters the estimated carbon intensity per ton of feedstock, potentially reshaping sustainability perceptions as certain systems emerge as carbon sinks. From a cradle-to-farm gate perspective, the assessed global warming potential for biomass production spans 12–245 kg CO2eq per oven-dry ton (ODt), factoring only anthropogenic emissions. However, when accounting for SOC sequestration, the range shifts to −170 to 228 kg CO2eq per ODt, highlighting potential the role of biomass to act as carbon sink systems. By illuminating the dynamic influence of SOC sequestration, this study contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of biomass-related carbon emissions, shedding light on pathways to mitigate environmental impact.