Life Cycle Assessment of Biomass-based Combined Heat and Power Plants

Centralized Versus Decentralized Deployment Strategies


Geoffrey Guest
Norwegian University of Science
& Technology
Department of Energy and Process
Industrial Ecology Programme
Høgskoleringen 5, 7491 Trondheim,


Norway, like many countries, has realized the need to extensively plan its renewable energy future sooner rather than later. Combined heat and power (CHP) through gasification of forest residues is one technology that is expected to aid Norway in achieving a desired doubling of bioenergy production by 2020. To assess the environmental impacts to determine the most suitable CHP size, we performed a unit process-based attributional life cycle assessment (LCA), in which we compared three scales of CHP over ten environmental impact categories—micro (0.1 megawatts electricity [MWe]), small (1 MWe), and medium (50 MWe) scale. The functional units used were 1 megajoule (MJ) of electricity and 1 MJ of district heating delivered to the end user (two functional units), and therefore, the environmental impacts from distribution of electricity and hot water to the consumer were also considered. This study focuses on a regional perspective situated in middle-Norway's Nord- and Sør-Trøndelag counties. Overall, the unit-based environmental impacts between the scales of CHP were quite mixed and within the same magnitude. The results indicated that energy distribution from CHP plant to end user creates from less than 1% to nearly 90% of the total system impacts, depending on impact category and energy product. Also, an optimal small-scale CHP plant may be the best environmental option. The CHP systems had a global warming potential ranging from 2.4 to 2.8 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per megajoule of thermal (g CO2-eq/MJth) district heating and from 8.8 to 10.5 grams carbon dioxide equivalent per megajoule of electricity (g CO2-eq/MJel) to the end user.