Title: A Review of the Environmental Impacts of Bio-based Materials
Citation: JOURNAL OF INDUSTRIAL ECOLOGY vol. 16 no. S1 p. S169-S181
Publication Year: 2012
JRC N°: JRC67100
ISSN: 1088-1980
URI: www.wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/jie
DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-9290.2012.00468.x
Type: Articles in periodicals and books
Abstract: Concerns over climate change and the security of industrial feedstock supply have been opening a growing market for bio-based materials. However, this development confronts scientists, policy-makers, and industry with a challenge because the production of bio-based materials requires land and is typically associated with the application of agrochemicals. This article addresses the environmental impacts of bio-based materials in a meta-analysis of 44 Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies. The reviewed literature suggests that one metric ton (t) of bio-based materials saves relative to conventional materials 55 ± 34 GJ primary energy and 3 ± 1 t CO2-equivalents of greenhouse gases. However, bio-based materials may slightly increase eutrophication by 5 ± 7 kg phosphate-equivalents/t and stratospheric ozone depletion by 1.9 ± 1.8 kg nitrous oxide-equivalents/t. Our findings are inconclusive with regard to acidification (savings of 2 ± 20 kg sulfur dioxide-equivalents/t of bio-bases materials) and photochemical ozone formation (savings of 0.3 ± 2.4 kg ethene-equivalents/t of bio-based materials). The large variability in the results of individual life cycle assessment studies highlights the difficulties to draw general conclusions. Still, characteristic of most bio-based materials are impacts caused by the application of fertilizers and pesticides during industrial biomass cultivation. Additional land use impacts, such as the potential loss of biodiversity, soil carbon depletion, soil erosion, deforestation, as well as greenhouse-gas emissions from indirect land use change are not quantified in this review. Clearly, these impacts should be considered when evaluating the environmental impacts of bio-based materials.
JRC Directorate:Energy, Transport and Climate

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