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A critical review of life cycle assessment studies of woody biomass conversion to sugars

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Ryan, Niamh 


Woody biomass could potentially become a viable raw material for the future sustainable chemical industry. For this, a suitable regulatory framework must exist, that would create favourable economic conditions for wood biorefineries. Such policies must be developed on the basis of scientific evidence—in this case, data supporting the environmental advantages of the bio-based feedstocks to the chemical industry. The most suitable methodology for comprehensive evaluation of environmental performance of technologies is life cycle assessment (LCA). In this review, the available LCA studies of woody biomass fractionation and conversion to bulk chemical feedstocks are critically evaluated. It has been revealed that the majority of the openly available studies do not contain transparent inventory data and, therefore, cannot be verified or re-used; studies containing inventory data are reported in this review. The lack of inventory data also prevents comparison between studies of the same processes performed with different evaluation methods or using different system boundaries. Recommendations are proposed on how to overcome issues of commercial data sensitivity by using black-box modelling when reporting environmental information. From several comparable LCA studies, it has been concluded that today the most environmentally favourable technology for wood biomass fractionation is organosolv. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Bio-derived and bioinspired sustainable advanced materials for emerging technologies (part 1)’.


Funder: Prince of Wales Global Sustainability Fellowship Programme


ARTICLES, Review articles, life cycle assessment, woody biomass, biotechnology

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Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A

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The Royal Society Publishing