Biorefineries will play a critical role in sustainable bioeconomies, but projections of their environmental impacts vary widely. A core challenge with life cycle assessments (LCAs) of biorefineries is that they are often disconnected from biorefinery design, simulation, and techno-economic analysis (TEA). This lack of integration is a barrier to early stage technology and process evaluations, reducing consistency and transparency across sustainability indicators while limiting our understanding of the relative importance of individual factors (e.g., design decisions, greenhouse gas emission accounting procedures), how these factors interact, and trade-offs or synergies with process economics. In this study, we propose a new agile LCA framework, BioSTEAM-LCA, which layers onto BioSTEAM (Biorefinery Simulation and Techno-Economic Analysis Modules, which automates biorefinery design, simulation, and TEA) to characterize the environmental impacts of biorefineries across a landscape of designs, technology performance assumptions, and contexts. Inventory databases and impact assessment methods are integrated to enable flexible user defined LCA system models, and the implications of uncertainties throughout the production system are characterized via Monte Carlo simulation. To demonstrate the capabilities of BioSTEAM-LCA, we present a case study for sugarcane ethanol production. Overall, BioSTEAM-LCA enables computationally efficient, agile gate-to-gate LCA to evaluate biorefinery processes, the production of candidate biofuels and bioproducts, and trade-offs among productivity, economics, and environmental impacts under uncertainty.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Environmental Chemistry
- Chemical Engineering(all)
- Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment