Cumulative Energy and Global Warming Impact from the Production of Biomass for Biobased Products


Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Room 2527 Engineering Building, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1226, USA, <>, <http:www.chems.msu.eduphpfaculty.phpuserbdale>


The cumulative energy and global warming impacts associated with producing corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and switchgrass and transporting these crops to a central crop processing facility (called a “biorefinery”) are estimated. The agricultural inputs for each crop are collected from seven states in the United States: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The cumulative energy requirement for producing and transporting these crops is 1.99 to 2.66 megajoules/kilo-gram (MJ/kg) for corn, 1.98 to 2.04 MJ/kg for soybeans, 1.24 MJ/kg for alfalfa, and 0.97 to 1.34 MJ/kg for switchgrass. The global warming impact associated with producing biomass is 246 to 286 grams (g) CO2 equivalent/kg for corn, 159 to 163gCO2 equivalent/kg for soybeans, 89 g CO2 equivalent/ kg for alfalfa, and 124 to 147 g CO2 equivalent/kg for switch-grass. The detailed agricultural data are used to assess previous controversies over the energy balance of bioethanol and, in light of the ongoing debates on this topic, provide a needed foundation for future life-cycle assessments.