GCB Bioenergy

Cover image for Vol. 6 Issue 4

Edited By: Steve Long

Impact Factor: 4.248

ISI Journal Citation Reports © Ranking: 2013: 2/78 (Agronomy); 12/82 (Energy & Fuels)

Online ISSN: 1757-1707

Associated Title(s): Global Change Biology

Zero, one, or in between: evaluation of alternative national and entity-level accounting for bioenergy

Zero, one, or in between: evaluation of alternative national and entity-level accounting for bioenergy

The replacement of fossil fuels with biomass energy has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In order to identify the extent of environmental benefits, one must first determine how to accurately account for the full extent of emissions connected with the production and use of biomass energy. At this time, there is no agreement as to how emissions connected with use of biomass for heat and power will be handled under regulatory systems such as the Kyoto Protocol (KP) or EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS).

This article by Bird and colleagues reviews and evaluates the three basic accounting options for bioenergy emissions. The authors described alternative approaches to accounting for bioenergy emissions: (1) the producer is responsible for production, conversion, transportation, and combustion emissions; (2) consumers are responsible for combustion emissions; and (3) consumers are responsible for net GHG emissions generated throughout the value chain (all the production, conversion, transportation, and consumption processes).

The first (producer) approach encourages the use of bioenergy, thereby stimulating rural economies. However, the authors argue that this approach, which is the current system for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in operation under the KP, fails to capture the full extent of emissions caused by bioenergy. This approach places the burden of emissions on the producer rather than the consumer. For example, if the producer nation is not regulated by the KP, then the emissions from combusted biomass and reductions in biomass carbon stocks (i.e. when new biomass does not sufficiently replace biomass combusted for bioenergy) are not accounted for. When KP compliant nations obtain biomass for energy from nations without KP obligations, they are able to avoid accounting for their GHG emissions.

The first (producer) approach is the easiest to calculate of the three. However, the authors concluded that the second (consumer) and third (value chain) approaches more accurately account for emissions.

The second (consumer) approach discourages the use of bioenergy. The consumer accounts for GHG emissions from bioenergy combustion, but they do not receive any credit for atmospheric removal of CO2. The consumer therefore has no incentive to use more bioenergy than justified by the emission reductions it achieves. Thus, it decreases demand for biomass for energy and fails to stimulate rural economies.

In contrast with the other approaches, the third (value-chain) approach holds consuming nations responsible for emissions that occur outside of its national boundaries. This approach is theoretically neutral, between use of bioenergy and continued use of fossil fuels, and therefore, would not encourage use of bioenergy due to its high emissions per unit of energy produced.

Bird, D. N., Pena, N., Frieden, D. and Zanchi, G. (2011), Zero, one, or in between: evaluation of alternative national and entity-level accounting for bioenergy. GCB Bioenergy. doi: 10.1111/j.1757-1707.2011.01137.x Read this paper.

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