ARENA: Establishing a national LCA approach for bioenergy projects

In January 2014, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) held a ‘deep dive’ into biofuels, which identified the lack of a common Australian life cycle assessment (LCA) standard for bioenergy and biofuel projects. ARENA sought to address the issue.

Increasingly, ARENA is asked by the Advisory Panel and Board, and now have specified as part of its funding guidelines, a need to undertake LCAs for bioenergy and biofuel projects. However, ARENA currently has no standard methodology in place to guide applicants with comparability, while accounting for the differences in competing feedstocks, processing/generation pathways and co‐products.

Edge Environment is leading the development of the LCA approach and guidelines, in partnership with Life Cycle Strategies, Meo Carbon Solutions and Prof. Annette Cowie. The project is building on the considerable amount of work undertaken overseas and the many legacy bioenergy and biofuel LCA studies and preparatory activities that have been conducted in Australia previously. The project aims to leverage a broad range of stakeholders, their work and prior experience, where appropriate, to minimise duplication of effort and to maximise inter-operability with existing standards.

ARENA’s LCA initiative will ultimately deliver a ‘level playing field’ national standard to enable comparability across all of ARENA’s projects and platforms. Ultimately, application of a common LCA standard can assist ARENA to fulfil its mandate, including:

  • Guiding more effective decision-making by providing a ‘level playing field’ benchmark that enables it to compare projects against each other, taking into account multiple feedstocks, conversion platforms and co‐products.
  • Supporting ‘due diligence’ by ensuring the projects it supports are able to deliver a net benefit in terms of, for example, GHG footprint, land-use changes, social impacts and energy balance.
  • Managing the potential for reputational risk inherent in funding projects that may involve environmental and/or social sensitivities (often that may be quite geographically specific) that go beyond carbon intensity alone.
  • Being clearer about the proportion of a given bioenergy/biofuel project that directly relates to the output of renewable energy (versus co‐products).
  • Understanding where the innovation gaps/opportunities/’hotspots’ lie in terms of the technical maturation of novel pathways and approaches.
  • Providing a platform for more informed techno‐economic evaluation of projects.
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