Assessing the land use implications of biodiesel use from an LCA perspective

Schmidt J H, Christensen P, Christensen T S (2009)

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Journal of Land Use Science Vol. 4, No. 1-2, March 2009, pp 35-52.


The land use required in order to meet the increasing demand for biodiesel has significant impacts. New methodological developments within environmental life cycle assessment (LCA) establish a cause–effect relationship between the demand for biodiesel and its impacts on biodiversity. The objective of this article is to assess and compare the impacts of rapeseed oil (RSO) production in the EU and palm oil (PO) production in Southeast Asia. The functional unit of the LCA is 20.8 Mtoe (million tons oil equivalents) biodiesel equalling the EU25 goals for biodiesel in 2020. Land occupation and transformation are quantified for the two alternative vegetable oils, and losses throughout the product chain from cultivation over crushing to refining are inventoried. Market mechanisms and land which is indirectly affected by product substitutions from co-products are included in the modelling. Land occupation and transformation are evaluated by the use of life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) models on land use and biodiversity. Three basic scenarios are evaluated: (1) RSO-based biodiesel is produced from rapeseed grown on fields which were previously grown by other crops (barley, BL) – the displaced BL is imported from abroad; (2) RSO-based biodiesel is produced from rapeseed grown on former set-aside land in the EU; and (3) PO-based biodiesel produced in Southeast Asia is imported to the EU. It is concluded that the new EU policies on using set-aside land for energy crops cannot cover the European demand for biodiesel and crops must thus be imported from outside the EU. This means that land use outside the EU is affected. The modelling shows that the use of PO affects the land use in Malaysia or Indonesia and that Canadian land use for BL cultivation is affected when rapeseed is produced in the EU. The impacts on land use and biodiversity are presented for all three scenarios. Finally, it is discussed how an LCA perspective like the one applied here can contribute to the assessment of environmental impacts within land use science.

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