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Ethanol or Bioelectricity? Life Cycle Assessment of Lignocellulosic Bioenergy Use in Light-Duty Vehicles

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journal contribution
posted on 2013-09-17, 00:00 authored by Jason M. Luk, Mohammad Pourbafrani, Bradley A. Saville, Heather L. MacLean
Our study evaluates life cycle energy use and GHG emissions of lignocellulosic ethanol and bioelectricity use in U.S. light-duty vehicles. The well-to-pump, pump-to-wheel, and vehicle cycle stages are modeled. All ethanol (E85) and bioelectricity pathways have similar life cycle fossil energy use (∼ 100 MJ/100 vehicle kilometers traveled (VKT)) and net GHG emissions (∼5 kg CO2eq./100 VKT), considerably lower (65–85%) than those of reference gasoline and U.S. grid-electricity pathways. E85 use in a hybrid vehicle and bioelectricity use in a fully electric vehicle also have similar life cycle biomass and total energy use (∼ 350 and ∼450 MJ/100 VKT, respectively); differences in well-to-pump and pump-to-wheel efficiencies can largely offset each other. Our energy use and net GHG emissions results contrast with findings in literature, which report better performance on these metrics for bioelectricity compared to ethanol. The primary source of differences in the studies is related to our development of pathways with comparable vehicle characteristics. Ethanol or vehicle electrification can reduce petroleum use, while bioelectricity may displace nonpetroleum energy sources. Regional characteristics may create conditions under which either ethanol or bioelectricity may be the superior option; however, neither has a clear advantage in terms of GHG emissions or energy use.

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