Beyond carbon and energy: The challenge in setting guidelines for life cycle assessment of biofuel systems

Magdalena M. Czyrnek-Delêtre, Beatrice M. Smyth, Jerry D. Murphy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
360 Downloads (Pure)


Life cycle assessment (LCA) is one of the most suitable tool for a uniform assessment methodology of biofuels’ sustainability. However, there are no binding guidelines for LCA of biofuel systems. Published LCAs use a range of methodologies, different system boundaries, impact categories and functional units, various allocation approaches, and assumptions regarding by- and co-products, as well as different reference systems to which the biofuel system is compared. The European Renewable Energy Directive and the US Renewable Fuel Standard focus on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, previous LCAs of biofuel systems have shown that a reduction of GHG emissions does not lead automatically to a decrease in other environmental impacts, and might in fact be associated with an increase in impacts such as acidification, eutrophication, and land use change. In order to enable effective comparison of biofuel systems, the authors propose a framework for biofuel LCA. System boundaries should be expanded to include the life cycle of by- and co-products. Results should be reported using more than one functional unit. Burden shifting can be avoided by considering an array of impact categories including global warming potential and energy balance, along with eutrophication and acidification potential, and a land use indicator.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)436-448
Number of pages13
JournalRenewable Energy
Early online date18 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - May 2017


  • Biofuels
  • Impact categories
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Sustainability guidelines
  • System boundaries

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


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