Using the Lashof Accounting Methodology to Assess Carbon Mitigation Projects With Life Cycle Assessment

Ethanol Biofuel as a Case Study


Address correspondence to:
Réjean Samson
CIRAIG—Department of Chemical
École Polytechnique de Montréal
P.O. Box 6079 Downtown
Montreal (Quebec) Canada H3C 3A7


As governments elaborate strategies to counter climate change, there is a need to compare the different options available on an environmental basis. This study proposes a life cycle assessment framework integrating the Lashof accounting methodology, which enables the assessment and comparison of different carbon mitigation projects (e.g., biofuel use, a sequestering plant, an afforestation project). The Lashof accounting methodology is chosen amid other methods of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission characterization for its relative simplicity and capability to characterize all types of carbon mitigation projects. Using the unit of megagram-year (Mg-year), which accounts for the mass of GHGs in the atmosphere multiplied by the time it stays there, the methodology calculates the cumulative radiative forcing caused by GHG emission within a predetermined time frame. Basically, the developed framework uses the Mg-year as a functional unit and isolates impacts related to the climate mitigation function with system expansion. The proposed framework is demonstrated with a case study of tree ethanol pathways (maize, sugarcane, and willow). The study shows that carbon mitigation assessment through life cycle assessment is possible and that it could be a useful tool for decision makers, as it can compare different projects regardless of their original context. The case study reveals that system expansion, as well as each carbon mitigation project's efficiency at reducing carbon emissions, are critical factors that have a significant impact on the results. Also, the framework proves to be useful for treating land-use change emissions, as they are considered through the functional unit.