Full Title: Comparative Life Cycle Assessments: Carbon Neutrality and Wood Biomass Energy
Author(s): Roger A. Sedjo
Publisher(s): Resources for the Future
Publication Date: 5/2013



Biomass energy is expected to play a major role in the substitution of renewable energy sources  for fossil fuels over the next several decades. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA 2012)  forecasts increases in the share of biomass in US energy production from 8 percent in 2009 to 15 percent  by 2035. The general view has been that carbon emitted into the atmosphere from biological materials is  carbon neutral—part of a closed loop whereby plant regrowth simply recaptures the carbon emissions  associated with the energy produced. Recently this view has been challenged, and the US Environmental  Protection Agency (EPA) is considering regulations to be applied to biomass energy carbon emissions. A  basic approach for analyses of environmental impacts has been the use of life cycle assessment (LCA), a  methodology for assessing and measuring the environmental impact of a product over its lifetime—from  raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and  maintenance, and disposal or recycling. However, LCA approaches vary, and the results of alternative  methodologies often differ (Helin et al. 2012). This study investigates and compares the implications of  these alternative approaches for emissions from wood biomass energy, the carbon footprint,  and also  highlights the differences in LCA environmental impacts.