LCA on Renewable Diesel

Thanks to a reader for this tip. Argonne National Laboratory has just published a Life-Cycle Analysis (LCA) of biogasoline, biodiesel, green diesel, and petroleum diesel:

Life-Cycle Assessment of Energy and Greenhouse Gas Effects of Soybean-Derived Biodiesel and Renewable Fuels

I have just skimmed the report so far, but noted a few items of interest. Table 2-1 shows “Current and Planned Renewable Diesel Facilities.” If I had time, I would convert to a table, but I don’t:

Company Size (bpd) Location Online Date

ConocoPhillips 1,000 Ireland 2006
ConocoPhillips 12,000 United States To be determined
British Petroleum (BP) 1,900 Australia 2007
Neste 3,400 Finland 2007
Neste 3,400 Finland 2009
Petrobras 4 × 4,000 Brazil 2007
UOP/Eni 6,500 Italy 2009

In Table 3.3, they list the energy inputs into soybean farming from three different sources. The lowest input? Surprisingly, it came from Pimentel and Patzek.

Also, note this very important note on Page 4 that could throw all of these results out the window:

Note that this study does not consider potential land use changes. Increased CO2emissions from potential land use changes are an input option in GREET, but it was not used in the current analysis since reliable data on potential land use changes induced by soybean-based fuel production are not available. Furthermore, the main objective of this study is to concentrate on the process-related issues described above.

I presume this is in response to the recent Science articles that looked at land use changes from ethanol, and concluded the carbon footprint was worse than for gasoline. For soybeans, it is likely to be worse, because soybean farming is reportedly encroaching into the Amazon.

One thing that would have been a lot more reader-friendly would have been an actual energy balance equation. That is, for 1 BTU of energy input, X BTUs of energy is returned for the various fuels.

Off to Switzerland tomorrow until Friday evening, but I will post something if I get a chance.

8 thoughts on “LCA on Renewable Diesel”


    3/31/2008 11:31:20 AM
    Congressman John Larson (D-Conn.) and 11 associations representing petroleum
    marketers are calling for the U.S. government to reform the energy commodities
    market, charging that financial institutions’ use of derivatives as investment
    tools is distorting fuel markets to the disadvantage of consumers.
    Larson announced Monday that he was drafting legislation aimed at driving
    the Congressional hearings into the influence of non-commercial, institutional
    investors on the price of oil. The Senate Committee on Energy & Natural
    Resources will hold a hearing on the topic on Thursday.
    Additionally, the marketing associations (representing 3,500 companies who
    serve 20 million consumers) are asking Congress to hold hearings “aimed at
    restricting the daily buying and selling of crude oil, gasoline, diesel fuel
    and heating oil to only those entities capable of accepting delivery of the
    actual energy itself,” they said in a statement.
    “This would help prevent energy commodities from being used by investment
    banks and hedge funds as investment tools that inflate the price of energy to
    the American people,” the statement said.
    The move follows months of increased cash flow from hedge funds and
    investment banks into a broad range of commodities, including energy, as a
    hedge against the decline in value of the U.S. dollar. Petroleum futures
    contracts, which serve as pricing benchmarks for wholesale fuel markets have
    skyrocketed in value, breaking records across the board.
    At the same time, several Northeast heating oil suppliers have gone out of
    business after failing to deliver prepaid fuel to customers. Some blame those
    failures on a lack of oil-price hedging mechanisms and/or overly aggressive
    price discounts offered to secure market share.
    Along with distortions in the market, increases in the price of product,
    operation expenses and costs associated with regulation have had petroleum
    marketers pushing their lines of credit with banks and suppliers to the
    maximum, marketers maintain.
    “Supply and demand apparently no longer matter on Wall Street,” said Shane
    Sweet, executive director of the New England Fuel Institute. “It’s time to
    protect energy commodities from Wall Street so that market fundamentals can
    once again drive energy prices.”
    The congressman’s announcement with the petroleum marketers comes just after
    the federal government said it planned to overhaul the regulatory structure of
    the nation’s financial markets, including derivatives markets.
    Details of the plan were published over the weekend and Treasury Secretary
    Henry Paulson will expand on them in a speech Monday. The plan gives a greatly
    enhanced role to the Federal Reserve and may merge several oversight agencies
    together, such as the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities
    and Exchange Commission.
    On Friday, several heating oil trade associations sent a letter to Paulson
    outlining their concerns about “unprecedented volatility and speculative fervor
    on the energy futures market.”

    –Beth Heinsohn,

  2. FYI, Dr. Patzek has another paper on soy biodiesel close to being published, which corrects many of the inconsistencies of previous work on the subject. Needless to say, it is not a pretty picture.

    However, given Searchinger’s paper (the one you & the report mention), this is just kicking a dead horse. S’s paper (and the SOM) ought to be required reading for anyone in the biofuel/biomass field. It pretty much eliminates the possibility of greenhouse-gas friendly biofuels from anything that affects food production. And the argument is pretty air-tight. People don’t eat much less when food prices go up, but farmers are certainly responding, by “converting” ecosystems at a rate closely tied to price.

    This has a massive global warming impact, right away. It is the reason why Indonesia competes with the U.S. and China for the global warming-est crown in spite of having almost no industry.

    It is a particular problem for soy, which has a very low per-area yield, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see how expanded soy production affects the Amazon, it’s already being slashed & burned for soy on a massive scale.

  3. And of course, Argonne consistently acts like agricultural N2O emissions don’t exist.

    Much less the side effect of taking large amounts of Soybeans off the international food market, Causing replacements to end up in freshly cut Brazilian rainforests.


    Once again, morally bankrupt, Argonne continues to stump for Corn and Soy fuels.


    EROEI is entirely secondary to that. And largely a false benchmark.

  4. Greyfalcon, we all hear about the CO2 released when rainforests are cut down,but what are the long term effects? Trees in a rainforest are always dying and releasing their CO2. It seems like food crops would release less CO2 in the long run,or at least more of the CO2 would be sequestered/flushed. I’m not being fecetious. Just wondering if studies have been done.

  5. Maybe I should put the question a little differently. If a rainforest has been around a million years,wouldn’t it be CO2 neutral? Something has to die and release its CO2 for something else to grow,right? Crops,on the other hand,would be harvested,and eaten or converted to fuel each year. So which is more beneficial to the environment in the long run,rainforests or cropland?

  6. Some fascinating posts today. The one about oil speculators is interesting. Industry people think the oil price is being manipulated up by speculators.
    Meanwhile, demand is being choked off.
    Oi price collapse coming?
    Look out below!

  7. Maury, you are right that standing forests are more or less CO2 neutral. So is cropland over multiple harvests. The difference is forests store much more carbon per acre than crops. When you convert forest to cropland you thus have a large, one-time release of CO2.

    If you read these land-use reports they quote “payback times” for biofuels. If a biofuel project converts forest to cropland, releasing 100 Megatonnes of CO2 but displaces enough fossil fuel to save 10 Megatonnes of CO2 per year it has a 10 year payback. After year 10 you’re ahead of the game. The studies I’ve read speak of much longer payback periods — e.g. 167 years. As with all biofuel studies, results vary wildly depending on who’s writing the paper.

    Note that hydroelectric works the same way. Flooding a large area releases a lot of CO2, but electricity from the dam displaces fossil fuel and saves CO2 each year. I’ve seen some people throw around 30-40 year paybacks, but those numbers sound dubious. Especially for something like the Hoover dam — deserts don’t store a lot of CO2.

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