ARENA launches method and guidance for undertaking life cycle assessment (LCA) of bioenergy products and projects

Australia is committed to taking strong domestic and international action on climate change. The Government is implementing national policies to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change in the context of coordinated global action, to date with inadequate and non-science based targets, limited to reduce Australian emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

An historic global climate agreement was agreed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris 2015. Key outcomes include a global goal to hold average temperature increase to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to keep warming below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Obviously, scaling up renewable energy capacity is an urgent and essential part of this commitment.

ARENA_LCAThe Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) was established to make renewable energy solutions more commercially-competitive and to increase their supply in the Australian marketplace. ARENA helps fund and share information about renewable energy projects.

ARENA requires proponents to deliver a life cycle assessment (LCA) report in relation to all funded bioenergy and biofuels projects. The fundamental driver for this is to establish confidence that technologies produce renewable energy with a favourable overall environmental impact profile, primarily in relation to embodied fossil energy and GHG balance.

This method has been developed to support ARENA applicants in undertaking LCA studies of the proposed technologies. The main audience for this document is LCA practitioners. The aim of the LCA method is to:

  • Provide bioenergy proponents with insights into the environmental benefits and risks across the full life cycle of bioenergy products/projects.
  • Guide more effective decision-making by providing a ‘level playingfield’ benchmark that enables ARENA to compare projects against conventional generation or fuel options.
  • Support ‘due diligence’ by ensuring the projects supported by ARENA are able to deliver a net bene t in environmental terms e.g. greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint or energy balance.
  • Understand where the innovation gaps/ opportunities/‘‘hot spots’’ lie in terms of the technical maturation of novel pathways and approaches.
  • Enable knowledge sharing, including:
    • Provide a solid basis for communication of project impacts and benefits to the community.
    • Provide analyses with robust comparability to non- biofuel alternatives that are functionally similar.
    • Provide high quality LCA outputs for independent scrutiny by other LCA experts, academics, non- government organisations (NGOs) etc.

The objectives of the method do not currently include social and socio-economic impacts, given that existing ARENA-specific and other regulatory assessments and mechanisms already cover these aspects.

Edge worked with life cycle and bioenergy experts Tim Grant, Prof. Annette Cowie and Dr. Jan Henke with MEO Carbon Solutions to develop the method and guidance. A process of stakeholder engagement was undertaken to elicit feedback on technical aspects of this Method and Guidance as well as its practicality and achievability. The stakeholder engagement included over 125 individual stakeholders through various activities such as semi-structured interviews, a survey, a webinar, email correspondence and presentations at relevant conferences. Included organisations from all states as well as national and international organisations. Organisations engaged included Bioenergy Australia, Biofuels Association of Australia, CSIRO, Department of Environment, Clean Energy Regulator, QANTAS, Virgin Australia, WWF and RMIT University.

ARENA’s bioenergy LCA method sets the benchmark for decision-making in terms of holistic and long term thinking in our common energy supply future. The method is founded in best available science to guide what energy sources and technologies will bring about the sustainable future we all rely on. Edge is advocating the Method is expanded to all energy sources and technologies enjoying government support and funding.

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