Publication Detail

Accounting for Time-Dependent Effects in Biofuel Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Calculations

UCD-ITS-RP-09-41

Reprint

Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS)

Available online at doi: 10.1021/es900529u

Suggested Citation:
Kendall, Alissa, Brenda Chang, Benjamin Sharpe (2009) Accounting for Time-Dependent Effects in Biofuel Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Calculations. Environmental Science & Technology 43 (18), 7142 - 7147

This paper proposes a time correction factor (TCF) to properly account for the timing of land use change-derived greenhouse gas emissions in the biofuels life cycle. Land use change emissions occur at the outset of biofuel feedstock production, and are typically amortized over an assumed time horizon to assign the burdens of land use change to multiple generations of feedstock crops. Greenhouse gas intensity calculations amortize emissions by dividing them equally over a time horizon, overlooking the fact that the effect of a greenhouse gas increases with the time it remains in the atmosphere. The TCF is calculated based on the relative climate change effect of an emission occurring at the outset of biofuel feedstock cultivation versus one amortized over a time horizon. For time horizons between 10 and 50 years, the TCF varies between 1.7 and 1.8 for carbon dioxide emissions, indicating that the actual climate change effect of an emission is 70-80% higher than the effect of its amortized values. The TCF has broad relevance for correcting the treatment of emissions timing in other life cycle assessment applications, such as emissions from capital investments for production systems or manufacturing emissions for renewable energy technologies.