Bioenergy as a sustainable renewable energy option has been adopted as an ecologically benign alternative to fossil fuels that will reduce global dependency on petroleum; hence developing this type of energy has attracted a considerable world-wide interest. However the viability of the bioenergy production systems also depends on logistics and supply chain issues. Biomass-to-energy production systems need to be evaluated by adopting the systems view approach, lifecycle analysis, material flow analysis; including an assessment based on all the three sustainability dimensions: environmental, economic and social dimensions in order to develop sustainable bioenergy production systems. This article proposes a sustainability evaluation framework developed for biomass to energy production system. This framework adopts a ‘systemic view’ of bioenergy production. The first step undertaken in eliciting a view of the system is to define the boundaries of the production system, taking into account the supply chain of the biomass as well as the boundaries of where the impact of the production system need to be assessed. Adopting these theoretical perspectives, this sustainability evaluation framework aims to facilitate decision making driven by a balance between profitability, environmental and social impact. More specifically the framework is intended to assess biomass-to-biofuels pathways looking at the structure and the key components of its supply chains in terms of collection, pre-treatment, transportation, storage, energy conversion, logistics network design, supply and demand issues in order to ensure sustainability as it is very important to understand the key processes, which drive the entire bioenergy production system and the interactions in supply chain networks. Bioenergy production systems are also dependent on the technological information available as technology impacts on the production of the desired product. Additionally the developed evaluation framework has been influenced by the philosophical foundations that emanated from the examination of sustainability assessment. Assessment characterised by EIA-style approaches which focus on evaluating the impacts of a particular project proposal often involves having a strong bio-physical focus but with visible recognition of the likely social and economic impacts. This considers the localised impacts of the project and broader sustainability assessment and wider systems interactions are not addressed. Additionally a wider approach to sustainability assessment can be used in which the focus is not only on the ‘what’ of sustainability but also on the ‘how’. This sustainability evaluation framework has been influenced by this second philosophical foundation.
UNIVERSITY OF WEST OF SCOTLAND, PAISLEY
DR. Athanassios Kourouklis