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Towards integrated sustainability assessment for energetic use of biomass: A state of the art evaluation of assessment tools


  • Buytaert, V.
  • Muys, B.
  • Devriendt, N.
  • Pelkmans, L.
  • Kretzschmar, J.G.
  • Samson, R.


Biomass is expected to play an increasingly significant role in the ‘greening’ of energy supply. Nevertheless, concerns are rising about the sustainability of large-scale energy crop production. Impacts must be assessed carefully before deciding whether and how this industry should be developed, and what technologies, policies and investment strategies should be pursued. There is need for a comprehensive and reliable sustainability assessment tool to evaluate the environmental, social and economic performance of biomass energy production. This paper paves the way for such a tool by analysing and comparing the performance and applicability of a selection of existing tools that are potentially useful for sustainability assessment of bioenergy systems. The selected tools are: Criteria And Indicators (C&I), Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA), Exergy Analysis (EA) and System Perturbation Analysis (SPA). To evaluate the tools, a framework was constructed that consists of four evaluation levels: sustainability issues, tool attributes, model structure, area of application. The tools were then evaluated using literature data and with the help of a Delphi panel of experts. Finally, a statistical analysis was performed on the resulting data matrix to detect significant differences between tools. It becomes clear that none of the selected tools is able to perform a comprehensive sustainability assessment of bioenergy systems. Every tool has its particular advantages and disadvantages, which means that trade-offs are inevitable and a balance must be found between scientific accuracy and pragmatic decision making. A good definition of the assessment objective is therefore crucial. It seems an interesting option to create a toolbox that combines procedural parts of C&I and EIA, supplemented with calculation algorithms of LCA and CBA for respectively environmental and economic sustainability indicators. Nevertheless, this would require a more comprehensive interdisciplinary approach to align the different tool characteristics and focuses.

Suggested Citation

  • Buytaert, V. & Muys, B. & Devriendt, N. & Pelkmans, L. & Kretzschmar, J.G. & Samson, R., 2011. "Towards integrated sustainability assessment for energetic use of biomass: A state of the art evaluation of assessment tools," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 15(8), pages 3918-3933.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:rensus:v:15:y:2011:i:8:p:3918-3933
    DOI: 10.1016/j.rser.2011.07.036

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    1. Streimikiene, Dalia & Balezentis, Tomas & Krisciukaitienė, Irena & Balezentis, Alvydas, 2012. "Prioritizing sustainable electricity production technologies: MCDM approach," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 16(5), pages 3302-3311.
    2. Inge Stupak & Jamie Joudrey & C. Tattersall Smith & Luc Pelkmans & Helena Chum & Annette Cowie & Oskar Englund & Chun Sheng Goh & Martin Junginger, 2016. "A global survey of stakeholder views and experiences for systems needed to effectively and efficiently govern sustainability of bioenergy," Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy and Environment, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 5(1), pages 89-118, January.
    3. repec:gam:jsusta:v:10:y:2018:i:2:p:320-:d:128892 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Murphy, Fionnuala & Sosa, Amanda & McDonnell, Kevin & Devlin, Ger, 2016. "Life cycle assessment of biomass-to-energy systems in Ireland modelled with biomass supply chain optimisation based on greenhouse gas emission reduction," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 109(C), pages 1040-1055.
    5. Ribeiro, Barbara E. & Quintanilla, Miguel A., 2015. "Transitions in biofuel technologies: An appraisal of the social impacts of cellulosic ethanol using the Delphi method," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 92(C), pages 53-68.
    6. Kurka, Thomas & Blackwood, David, 2013. "Participatory selection of sustainability criteria and indicators for bioenergy developments," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 24(C), pages 92-102.
    7. Peter, Christiane & Helming, Katharina & Nendel, Claas, 2017. "Do greenhouse gas emission calculations from energy crop cultivation reflect actual agricultural management practices? – A review of carbon footprint calculators," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 67(C), pages 461-476.
    8. Moreira, João M.L. & Cesaretti, Marcos A. & Carajilescov, Pedro & Maiorino, José R., 2015. "Sustainability deterioration of electricity generation in Brazil," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 87(C), pages 334-346.
    9. Lähtinen, Katja & Myllyviita, Tanja & Leskinen, Pekka & Pitkänen, Sari K., 2014. "A systematic literature review on indicators to assess local sustainability of forest energy production," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 1202-1216.
    10. Mardani, Abbas & Zavadskas, Edmundas Kazimieras & Khalifah, Zainab & Zakuan, Norhayati & Jusoh, Ahmad & Nor, Khalil Md & Khoshnoudi, Masoumeh, 2017. "A review of multi-criteria decision-making applications to solve energy management problems: Two decades from 1995 to 2015," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 71(C), pages 216-256.
    11. Zuo, Jian & Zillante, George & Wilson, Lou & Davidson, Kathryn & Pullen, Stephen, 2012. "Sustainability policy of construction contractors: A review," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 16(6), pages 3910-3916.
    12. Oskar Englund & Göran Berndes, 2015. "How do sustainability standards consider biodiversity?," Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy and Environment, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 4(1), pages 26-50, January.
    13. Petrillo, Antonella & De Felice, Fabio & Jannelli, Elio & Autorino, Claudio & Minutillo, Mariagiovanna & Lavadera, Antonio Lubrano, 2016. "Life cycle assessment (LCA) and life cycle cost (LCC) analysis model for a stand-alone hybrid renewable energy system," Renewable Energy, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 337-355.


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