Assessing the Environmental Impact of Water Consumption by Energy Crops Grown in Spain


  • Montserrat Núñez,

    Corresponding author
    • Address correspondence to: Montserrat Núñez, IRTA, Sostenipra. Ctra. de Cabrils, Km 2. E-08348 Cabrils, Barcelona, Spain. Email:

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  • Stephan Pfister,

  • Assumpció Antón,

  • Pere Muñoz,

  • Stefanie Hellweg,

  • Annette Koehler,

  • Joan Rieradevall


The environmental impact of the water consumption of four typical crop rotations grown in Spain, including energy crops, was analyzed and compared against Spanish agricultural and natural reference situations. The life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology was used for the assessment of the potential environmental impact of blue water (withdrawal from water bodies) and green water (uptake of soil moisture) consumption. The latter has so far been disregarded in LCA. To account for green water, two approaches have been applied: the first accounts for the difference in green water demand of the crops and a reference situation. The second is a green water scarcity index, which measures the fraction of the soil-water plant consumption to the available green water. Our results show that, if the aim is to minimize the environmental impacts of water consumption, the energy crop rotations assessed in this study were most suitable in basins in the northeast of Spain. In contrast, the energy crops grown in basins in the southeast of Spain were associated with the greatest environmental impacts. Further research into the integration of quantitative green water assessment in LCA is crucial in studies of systems with a high dependence on green water resources.