Using a crop model to account for the effects of local factors on the LCA of sugar beet ethanol in Picardy region, France

Abstract : The results of published Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) of biofuels are characterized by a large variability, arising from the diversity of both biofuel chains and the methodologies used to estimate inventory data. Here, we suggest that the best option to maximize the accuracy of biofuel LCA is to produce local results taking into account the local soil, climatic and agricultural management factors. Methods We focused on a case study involving the production of first-generation ethanol from sugar beet in the Picardy region in Northern France. To account for local factors, we first defined three climatic patterns according to rainfall from a 20-year series of weather data. We subsequently defined two crop rotations with sugar beet as a break crop, corresponding to current practice and an optimized management scenario, respectively. The six combinations of climate types and rotations were run with the process-based model CERES-EGC to estimate crop yields and environmental emissions. We completed the data inventory and compiled the impact assessments using Simapro v.7.1 and Ecoinvent database v2.0. Results Overall, sugar beet ethanol had lower impacts than gasoline for the abiotic depletion, global warming, ozone layer depletion and photochemical oxidation categories. In particular, it emitted between 28 % and 42 % less greenhouse gases than gasoline. Conversely, sugar beet ethanol had higher impacts than gasoline for acidification and eutrophication due to losses of reactive nitrogen in the arable field. Thus, LCA results were highly sensitive to changes in local conditions and management factors. As a result, an average impact figures for a given biofuel chain at regional or national scales may only be indicative within a large uncertainty band. Conclusions Although the crop model made it possible to take local factors into account in the life-cycle inventory, best management practices that achieved high yields while reducing environmental impacts could not be identified. Further modelling developments are necessary to better account for the effects of management practices, in particular regarding the benefits of fertiliser incorporation into the topsoil in terms of nitrogen losses abatement. Supplementary data and modelling developments also are needed to better estimate the emissions of pesticides and heavy metals in the field.
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Cécile Bessou, Simon Lehuger, Benoit Gabrielle, Bruno Mary. Using a crop model to account for the effects of local factors on the LCA of sugar beet ethanol in Picardy region, France. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, Springer Verlag, 2013, 18 (1), pp.24-36. ⟨10.1007/s11367-012-0457-0⟩. ⟨cirad-00749814v2⟩

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