Biofuels That Cause Land-Use Change May Have Much Larger Non-GHG Air Quality Emissions Than Fossil Fuels

Tsao, C.C.; Campbell, J.E.; Mena-Carrasco, M.; Spak, S.N.; Carmichael, G.R.; Chen, Y.


Although biofuels present an opportunity for renewable energy production, significant land-use change resulting from biofuels may contribute to negative environmental, economic, and social impacts. Here we examined non-GHG air pollution impacts from both indirect and direct land-use change caused by the anticipated expansion of Brazilian biofuels production. We synthesized information on fuel loading, combustion completeness, and emission factors, and developed a spatially explicit approach with uncertainty and sensitivity analyses to estimate air pollution emissions.

The land-use change emissions, ranging from 6.7 to 26.4 Tg PM(2.5), were dominated by deforestation burning practices associated with indirect land-use change. We also found Brazilian sugar cane ethanol and soybean biodiesel including direct and indirect land-use change effects have much larger life-cycle emissions than conventional fossil fuels for six regulated air pollutants.

The emissions magnitude and uncertainty decrease with longer life-cycle integration periods. Results are conditional to the single LUC scenario employed here. After LUC uncertainty, the largest source of uncertainty in LUC emissions stems from the combustion completeness during deforestation. While current biofuels cropland burning policies in Brazil seek to reduce life-cycle emissions, these policies do not address the large emissions caused by indirect land-use change.