The climate impacts of bioenergy systems depend on market and regulatory policy contexts.Environ Sci Technol. 2010 Oct 01; 44(19):7347-50.ES
Biomass can help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by displacing petroleum in the transportation sector, by displacing fossil-based electricity, and by sequestering atmospheric carbon. Which use mitigates the most emissions depends on market and regulatory contexts outside the scope of attributional life cycle assessments. We show that bioelectricity's advantage over liquid biofuels depends on the GHG intensity of the electricity displaced. Bioelectricity that displaces coal-fired electricity could reduce GHG emissions, but bioelectricity that displaces wind electricity could increase GHG emissions. The electricity displaced depends upon existing infrastructure and policies affecting the electric grid. These findings demonstrate how model assumptions about whether the vehicle fleet and bioenergy use are fixed or free parameters constrain the policy questions an analysis can inform. Our bioenergy life cycle assessment can inform questions about a bioenergy mandate's optimal allocation between liquid fuels and electricity generation, but questions about the optimal level of bioenergy use require analyses with different assumptions about fixed and free parameters.