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Back to the future: Dynamic full carbon accounting applied to prospective bioenergy scenarios

Albers A.C., Collet P., Benoist A., Helias A.. 2019. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment : 17 p..

Purpose Ongoing debates focus on the role of forest-sourced bioenergy within climate mitigation efforts, due to the long rotation lengths of forest biomass. Valuing sequestration is debated due to its reversibility; however, dynamic modelling of biogenic carbon (Cbio) flows captures both negative and positive emissions. The objective of this work is to respond to the key issue of timing sequestration associated with two opposed modelling choices (historic vs. future) in the context of dynamic life cycle assessment (LCA). Methods The outputs of a partial-equilibriummodel are used to inform prospective evaluations of the use of forest wood residues in response to an energy transition policy. Dynamic forest carbon modelling represents the carbon cycle between the atmosphere and technosphere: Cbio fixation and release through combustion and/or decay. Time-dependent characterization is used to assess the time-sensitive climate change effects. The two Cbio sequestration perspectives for bioenergy (forest biomass use) and reference (no use) scenarios are contrasted to assess (i) their temporal profiles, (ii) their climatic consequences concerning Ccomplete (fossil + biogenic C) vs. C-neutral (fossil C) approaches, and (iii) the implications of comparing the two approaches with dynamic LCA. Results and discussion Full lifetime carbon accounting confirms that Cbio entering the bioenergy system equals the Cbio leaving it in the net balance, but not within annual dynamic balances, which alter the atmospheric greenhouse gas composition. The impacts of the historic approach differed considerably from those of the future. Moreover, the ¿no use¿ scenario yielded higher forcing effects than the ¿bioenergy¿ due to the higher methane proportions. The chickenegg dilemma arises in attributional LCA: as the forcing depends on the timing of the Cbio sequestration and its allocation to a harvest activity. A decision tree supported by case study applications provides general rules for selecting the adequate time-related modelling approach based the criteria of provision of wood and regrowth from managed and unmanaged forests, determined by the origin of biotic resources and related spheres. Conclusions Excluding dynamic Cbio introduces under- (future) or over- (historic) estimation of the results, misleading mitigation decisions. Further research is needed to close the gap between forest stand and landscape level, addressing issues beyond the chicken-egg dilemma and developing complete dynamic LCA studies.

Thématique : Sources d'énergie renouvelable; Météorologie et climatologie; Production forestière

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