Parallel development of assessment methodologies and policy tools needed to support sustainability improvements of complex bioenergy systems

The sustainability performance of bioenergy and biofuels is debated, both within the scientific community and in society. Sometimes conflicting views are put forward even though similar bio­energy and biofuel production are discussed. One reason for this is differences in basic assumptions and methodological approaches applied in the underlying environmental as­sessments.

In the project Sustainable biofuels - critical review of current views and case studies using extended systems analysis providing new perspectives and positive examples, carried out within the f3 and Swedish Energy Agency collaborative research program Renewable trabsportation fuels and systems (Förnybara drivmedel och system) the aim has been to improve the knowledge about how methodological approaches can influence the outcome in assessments of the envi­ronmental performance of bioenergy and biofuel systems. Three different examples concerning important aspects of assessment of biofuels sustainability performance are presented and analysed: the impact of system boundaries on biogas GHG performance and land use efficiency, methodology approaches in assessments of forest bioenergy systems and associated carbon balances, and assessment and mapping of eco­system services in a landscape perspective. 

The overall finding from the project is that the sustainability of bioenergy can be investigated from different point of view, and methodological decisions and parameter assumptions have a strong influence on the outcome. results must be interpreted with this in mind. The development of increasingly complex bioenergy systems – motivated by the need for more efficient utilization of biomass resources, improved GHG performance and additional environmental benefits (e.g., ecosystem services) – must be ac­companied by parallel development of assessment methodologies and policy tools that can support these sustainability improvements. Involving policymakers and stakeholders in defining research questions increases likelihood that results are relevant, interpreted correctly, and useful in the policy development process.

The study has been lead by Göran Berndes, Chalmers, with participants also from Lund University. The project has benefitted from association with activities within IEA Bioenergy, European Forest Institute and other international networks that address issues of relevance for the project. A substantial number of publications have been produced in connection to the project; these are listed in the summary report that can be found on the project site.