The time aspect of bioenergy - climate impacts of bioenergy due to differences in carbon uptake rates

This paper investigates the climate impacts from bioenergy due to how they influence carbon stocks over time and more specifically how fast combustion related carbon emissions are compensated by uptake of atmospheric carbon. A set of fuel types representing different uptake rates are investigated, namely willow, branches and tops, stumps and coal. Net emissions are defined as emissions from utilizing the fuel minus emissions from a reference case of no utilisation. In the case of forest residues, the compensating “uptake" is avoided emissions from the reference case of leaving the residues to decompose on the ground. Climate impacts are estimated using the measures radiative forcing and global average surface temperature, which have been calculated by an energy balance climate model. We conclude that there is a climate impact from using bioenergy due to how fast the emission pulse is compensated by uptake of atmospheric carbon (or avoided emissions). Biofuels with slower uptake rates have a stronger climate impact than fuels with a faster uptake rate, assuming all other parameters equal. The time perspective over which the analysis is done is crucial for the climate impact of biofuels. If only biogenic fluxes are considered, our results show that over a 100 year perspective branches and tops are better for climate mitigation than stumps which in turn are better than coal. Over a 20 year time perspective this conclusion holds, but the differences between these fuels are relatively smaller. Establishing willow on earlier crop land may reduce atmospheric carbon, provided new land is available. However, these results are inconclusive since we haven't considered the effects, if needed, of producing the traditional agricultural crops elsewhere. The analysis is not a life cycle assessment of different fuels and does therefore not consider the use of fossil fuels for logging, transportation and refining, other greenhouse gases than carbon or energy conversion losses.

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Last updated: 2021-05-05

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