Social and economic indicators can be used to support design of sustainable energy systems. Indicators representing categories of social well-being, energy security, external trade, profitability, resource conservation, and social acceptability have not yet been measured in published sustainability assessments for commercial algal biofuel facilities. We review socioeconomic indicators that have been modeled at the commercial scale or mea-sured at the pilot or laboratory scale, as well as factors that affect them, and discuss additional indicators that should be measured during commercialization to form a more complete picture of socioeconomic sustainability of algal biofuels. Indicators estimated in the scientific literature include the profitability indicators, return on investment (ROI) and net present value (NPV), and the resource conservation indicator, fossil energy return on investment (EROI). These modeled indicators have clear sustainability targets and have been used to design sustainable algal biofuel systems. Factors affecting ROI, NPV, and EROI include infrastructure, process choices, and financial assumptions. The food security indicator, percent change in food price volatility, is probably zero where agricultural lands are not used for production of algae-based biofuels; however, food-related coproducts from algae could enhance food security. The energy security indicators energy security premium and fuel price volatility and external trade indicators terms of trade and trade volume cannot be projected into the future with accuracy prior to commercialization. Together with environmental sustainability indicators, the use of a suite of socioeconomic sustainability indicators should contribute to progress toward sustainability of algal biofuels
Renewable, biomass-based energy options can reduce the climate impacts of fossil fuels.
This article connects the science of sustainability theory with applied aspects of sustainability deployment. A suite of 35 sustainability indicators spanning 12 environmental and socioeconomic categories has been proposed for comparing the sustainability of bioenergy production systems across different feedstock types and locations. Information on sustainability indicators and associated measurements for the feedstock production and logistics portions of the biofuel supply chain was available from a recent demonstration‐scale switchgrass‐to‐ethanol production system located in East Tennessee. Knowledge pertaining to the available indicators was distributed within a hierarchical decision tree framework to generate an assessment of the overall sustainability of this no‐till switchgrass production system relative to two alternative business‐as‐usual scenarios of unmanaged pasture and tilled corn production. The relative contributions of the social, economic, and environmental information were determined for the overall trajectory of this bioenergy system's sustainability under each scenario. The results show that, within this East Tennessee context, switchgrass production is an attractive option for improving environmental and social sustainability trajectories without adverse economic impacts, which can lead to enhanced sustainability overall. Although external trade does not yet exist for this switchgrass commodity, our economic modeling indicates that switchgrass production can still be beneficial to the counties surrounding the biorefinery in terms of dollars earned and jobs created. The opportunity to use inactive equipment and laborers is a potential benefit captured indirectly by the sustainability evaluation framework. Given the early stage of cellulosic ethanol production, it is currently difficult to determine quantitative values for all 35 proposed sustainability indicators across the entire biofuel supply chain. This case study demonstrates that integration of qualitative sustainability indicator ratings may increase holistic understanding of a bioenergy system in the absence of complete information.
The paper describes an approach to landscape design that focuses on integrating bioenergy production with other components of environmental, social and economic systems. Landscape design as used here refers to a spatially explicit, collaborative plan for management of landscapes and supply chains. Landscape design can involve multiple scales and build on existing practices to reduce costs or enhance services. Appropriately applied to a specific context, landscape design can help people assess trade-offs when making choices about locations, types of feedstock, transport, refining and distribution of bioenergy products and services. The approach includes performance monitoring and reporting along the bioenergy supply chain. Examples of landscape design applied to bioenergy production systems are presented. Barriers to implementation of landscape design include high costs, the need to consider diverse land-management objectives from a wide array of stakeholders, up-front planning requirements, and the complexity and level of effort needed for successful stakeholder involvement. A landscape design process may be stymied by insufficient data or participation. An impetus for coordination is critical, and incentives may be required to engage landowners and the private sector. Hence devising and implementing landscape designs for more sustainable outcomes require clear communication of environmental, social, and economic opportunities and concerns.
The Paris Agreement and the EU Climate and Energy Framework set ambitious but necessary targets. Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by phasing out the technologies and infrastructures that cause fossil carbon emissions is one of today’s most important challenges. In the EU, bioenergy is currently the largest renewable energy source used. Most Member States have in absolute terms increased the use of forest biomass for energy to reach their 2020 renewable energy targets.
In recent years, the issue of ‘carbon neutrality’ has been debated with regard to the bioenergy products that are produced from forest biomass. There is no clear consensus among scientists on the issue and their messages may even appear contradictory to decision-makers and citizens. Divergence arises because scientists address the issue from different points of view, which can all be valid. It is important to find agreement on some basic principles, to inform policy makers. Guidance is also needed on how the results should be interpreted.
This report provides insights into the current scientific debate on forest biomass, carbon neutrality and climate change mitigation. It draws on the science literature to give a balanced and policy-relevant synthesis, from both an EU and global perspective.
Background: The purpose of the article is to research and analyze the notion of sustainability criteria in their function of an emerging tool to promote and safeguard sustainable products and their sustainable production. The article addresses critical issues, which are important for deeper understanding of sustainability criteria and their practical use. In this, the article examines the existing definitions of sustainability criteria, explores what indicators for sustainability criteria are, researches the issue of costs for following sustainability criteria, and discusses what groups of actors can be responsible for setting and supporting sustainability criteria. The research is done from a legal perspective, which involves much attention on how sustainability criteria can efficiently be implemented and used in legal constructions. Examples from the biofuel sector, which is regulated through a variety of legal frameworks and voluntary sustainability standards with sustainability criteria, are provided.
Results: The research results highlight that sustainability criteria is not a clearly defined concept. Their content should be linked to the understanding of what sustainable development and sustainability in each particular branch are. Purposes of sustainability criteria have to be explained and clarified so that it is easier to interpret and fulfill them. In some cases, sustainability criteria can set an upper limit to the use of natural resources and provide institutional guidance.
Conclusions: It is desirable that sustainability criteria are applied at initial stages of an industry development. Control of how sustainability criteria are fulfilled and its quality are very important. Thoroughly elaborated regulations on control mechanisms and their components, such as monitoring, reporting, verification, and transparency, should be included into legal frameworks and voluntary sustainability standards. Different groups of actors at different levels can be responsible for setting and supporting the implementation of sustainability criteria. Among them are international institutions, states, their governments, independent bodies established by states, NGOs, producers, and users. Collaboration between these groups should be promoted.
Synthesis manuscript for an Ecology & Society Special Feature on Telecoupling: A New Frontier for Global Sustainability
Abstract: European demand for renewable energy resources has led to rapidly increasing transatlantic exports of wood pellets from the southeastern United States (SE US) since 2009. Disagreements have arisen over the global greenhouse gas reductions associated with replacing coal with wood, and groups on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean have raised concerns that increasing biomass exports might negatively affect SE US forests and the ecosystem services they provide. We use the telecoupling framework to test assertions that the intended benefits of the wood pellet trade for Europe might be offset by negative consequences in the SE US. Through a review of current literature and available data sets, we characterize the observed and potential changes in the environmental, social, and economic components of the sending and receiving regions to assess the overall sustainability of this renewable energy system. We conclude that the observed transatlantic wood pellet trade is an example of a mutually beneficial telecoupled system with the potential to provide environmental and socioeconomic benefits in both the SE US and Europe despite some negative effects on the coal industry. We recommend continued monitoring of this telecoupled system to quantify the environmental, social, and economic interactions and effects in the sending, receiving, and spillover systems over time so that evidence-based policy decisions can be made with regard to the sustainability of this renewable energy pathway.
Citation: Parish, E. S., A. J. Herzberger, C. C. Phifer and V. H. Dale. 2018. Transatlantic wood pellet trade demonstrates telecoupled benefits. Ecology and Society 23 (1):28. [online] URL:https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol23/iss1/art28/
Simulated Response of Avian Biodiversity to Biomass Production. 2017. Chapter 10 in R.A. Efroymson et al. eds., 2016 Billion-Ton Report: Advancing Domestic Resources for a Thriving Bioeconomy, Volume 2: Environmental Sustainability Effects of Select Scenarios from Volume 1. ORNL/TM-2016/727. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN, pp.140-182. DOI: 10.2172/1338837, https://energy.gov/eere/bioenergy/downloads/2016-billion-ton-report-vol…
Jager, H. I., M. Wu, M. Ha, L. Baskaran and J. Krieg. 2017. Water Quality Responses to Simulated Management Practices on Agricultural Lands Producing Biomass Feedstocks in Two Tributary Basins of the Mississippi River, in R.A. Efroymson et al. eds., 2016 Billion-Ton Report: Advancing Domestic Resources for a Thriving Bioeconomy, Volume 2: Environmental Sustainability Effects of Select Scenarios from Volume 1. ORNL/TM-2016/727. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN, pp.140-182.
DOI: 10.2172/1338837, https://energy.gov/eere/bioenergy/downloads/2016-billion-ton-report-vol…
Exports of woody pellets from the southeastern United States (US) for European power plants have expanded since 2009, leading to concerns about major negative environmental effects. US exports of wood pellets have grown from essentially nothing in 2008 to 4.6 million metric tons in 2015, with 99% of US pellets being shipped to Europe. To examine effects of this recent expansion of the pellet industry on forest conditions, we use US Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USFS) Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) annual survey data for 2002–2014 to analyze changes in timberland trends since 2009 for two fuelsheds supplying pellets to the ports of Chesapeake, Virginia, and Savannah, Georgia. This analysis reveals that the Chesapeake fuelshed had significant increases in acreage of large trees and harvestable carbon after 2009. Furthermore, the timberland volume within plantations increased in the Chesapeake fuelshed after 2009. The Savannah fuelshed had significant increases in volume, areas with large trees, and all carbon pools after 2008. Increases in carbon in live trees for the Chesapeake fuelshed and all carbon pools for the Savannah fuelshed for the years before and after 2009 provide empirical support to prior estimates that production of wood-based pellets in the southeast US can enhance greenhouse gas sequestration. Both fuelsheds retained more naturally regenerating stands than plantations; however the number of standing dead trees increased within naturally regenerating stands and declined within plantations (but only significantly for the Savannah fuelshed). While the decrease in the number of standing dead trees per hectare for the Savannah fuelshed plantations after 2009 warrants investigation into its effects on biodiversity, others have recommended thinning and hardwood mid-story control within pine plantations to provide habitat for regionally declining bird species, which is consistent with use of biomass for energy and reducing the risk of fire. While all energy use affects the environment, these results show that benefits accrue when sustainable forest management provides wood pellets for energy that keep fossil fuel in the ground. By contrast urbanization is the greatest cause of forest loss in the SE US. It is essential to consistently monitor and assess forest conditions to assess changes, for exports of wood-based pellets for the southern US are expected to grow. Even though use of pellets for energy has more than doubled, the pellet industry constitutes < 1% of US forest products by weight. Therefore, any recent changes in SE US forest conditions are more likely related to the 2008 declines in the housing market. Continued analysis of annual FIA data using the methods outlined in this manuscript provides a scientifically valid approach for ongoing assessment.