Life cycle assessments, carbon footprints and carbon visions: Analysing environmental systems analyses of transportation biofuels in Sweden

To ensure the sustainable production and consumption of biofuels, an increasing body of scientific literature has become available in recent years focusing on the environmental impacts of biofuels. Whilst the climate change mitigation is perhaps the primary driver behind the promotion of biofuels, climate change is not the only crucial impact associated with biofuel production and consumption systems. This study aims at analysing the extent of the dominant focus on climate impacts in Swedish research applying environmental systems analysis (ESA) tools to investigate the environmental impacts of biofuels, and why this may exist.

A systematic literature review of Swedish research applying ESA tools in the study of transportation biofuels between 2000 and 2015 was conducted; identifying 64 studies. The results indicate that studies using life cycle assessment include a range of impact categories in addition to climate impacts, e.g. acidification and eutrophication. However, when also considering environmental footprints (i.e., carbon and water footprints) and material flow analyses, the dominance of carbon footprints leads to an overly dominant focus on climate impacts at the expense of other impact categories. The consideration of environmental impacts other than those related to climate impacts is discussed in terms of the influence of the dominant science-policy framework in Sweden and study dependent variables, such as data uncertainty and methodological limitations. Whilst biofuel production is inextricably linked to climate policy, the environmental impacts of Swedish biofuel production and consumption should also consider the broader context of the Swedish National Environmental Objectives.

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