Previous life cycle assessments for agro-bioenergy production rarely considered some agronomic factors with local and regional impacts. While many studies have found the environmental and socio-economic impacts of producing bioenergy on arable land not good enough to be considered sustainable, others consider it still as one of the most effective direct emission reduction and fossil fuel replacement measures. This study improved LCA methods in order to examine the individual and combined effects of often overlooked agronomic factors (e.g. alternative farm power, seed sowing, fertilizer, tillage and irrigation options) on life-cycle energy indicators (net energy gain-NEG, energy return on energy invested-EROEI), across the three major agro-climatic zones namely tropic, sub-tropic and the temperate landscapes. From this study, we found that individual as well as combined effects of agronomic factors may improve the energy productivity of arable bioenergy sources considerably in terms of the NEG (from between 6.8 and 32.9 GJ/ha to between 99.5 and 246.7 GJ/ha for maize ethanol; from between 39.0 and 118.4 GJ/ha to between 127.9 and 257.9 GJ/ha for maize biogas) and EROEI (from between 1.2 and 1.8 to between 2.1 and 3.0 for maize ethanol, from between 4.3 and 12.1 to between 15.0 and 33.9 for maize biogas). The agronomic factors considered by this study accounted for an extra 7.5–14.6 times more of NEG from maize ethanol, an extra 2.2–3.3 times more of NEG from maize biogas, an extra 1.7 to 1.8 times more of EROEI from maize ethanol, and an extra 2.8–3.5 times more of EROEI from maize biogas respectively. This therefore underscores the need to factor in local and regional agronomic factors into energy efficiency and sustainability assessments, as well as decision making processes regarding the application of energy from products of agro-bioenergy production.
Arodudu, O. T., Helming, K., Voinov, A., & Wiggering, H. (2017). Integrating agronomic factors into energy efficiency assessment of agro-bioenergy production: a case study of ethanol and biogas production from maize feedstock. Applied energy, 198, 426-439. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apenergy.2017.02.017