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Applying distance-to-target weighing methodology to evaluate the environmental performance of bio-based energy, fuels, and materials

Weiss, Martin
Heilmeier, Hermann
Bringezu, Stefan
Published in Resources, Conservation and Recycling. 2007, vol. 50, no. 3, p. 260-281
Abstract The enhanced use of biomass for the production of energy, fuels, and materials is one of the key strategies towards sustainable production and consumption. Various life cycle assessment (LCA) studies demonstrate the great potential of bio-based products to reduce both the consumption of non-renewable energy resources and greenhouse gas emissions. However, the production of biomass requires agricultural land and is often associated with adverse environmental effects such as eutrophication of surface and ground water. Decision making in favor of or against bio-based and conventional fossil product alternatives therefore often requires weighing of environmental impacts. In this article, we apply distance-to-target weighing methodology to aggregate LCA results obtained in four different environmental impact categories (i.e., non-renewable energy consumption, global warming potential, eutrophication potential, and acidification potential) to one environmental index. We include 45 bio- and fossil-based product pairs in our analysis, which we conduct for Germany. The resulting environmental indices for all product pairs analyzed range from −19.7 to +0.2 with negative values indicating overall environmental benefits of bio-based products. Except for three options of packaging materials made from wheat and cornstarch, all bio-based products (including energy, fuels, and materials) score better than their fossil counterparts. Comparing the median values for the three options of biomass utilization reveals that bio-energy (−1.2) and bio-materials (−1.0) offer significantly higher environmental benefits than bio-fuels (−0.3). The results of this study reflect, however, subjective value judgments due to the weighing methodology applied. Given the uncertainties and controversies associated not only with distance-to-target methodologies in particular but also with weighing approaches in general, the authors strongly recommend using weighing for decision finding only as a supplementary tool separately from standardized LCA methodology.
Keywords BiomassLife cycle assessmentEnvironmental impact categoriesDistance-to-target weighing
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WEISS, Martin et al. Applying distance-to-target weighing methodology to evaluate the environmental performance of bio-based energy, fuels, and materials. In: Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 2007, vol. 50, n° 3, p. 260-281.

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Deposited on : 2014-12-10

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