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Energy Life-Cycle Assessment of Soybean Biodiesel Revisited

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  Transactions of the ASABE. 54(3): 1031-1039. (doi: 10.13031/2013.37088) @2011
Authors:   A. Pradhan, D. S. Shrestha, A. McAloon, W. Yee, M. Haas, J. A. Duffield
Keywords:   Biofuel, Energy balance, Energy life-cycle analysis, Fossil energy ratio, LCA

The first comprehensive life-cycle assessment (LCA) for soybean biodiesel produced in the U.S. was completed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in 1998, and the energy inventory for this analysis was updated in 2009 using 2002 data. The continual adoption of new technologies in farming, soybean processing, and for biodiesel conversion affects the life-cycle energy use over time, requiring that LCA practitioners update their models as often as possible. This study uses the most recently available data to update the energy life-cycle of soybean biodiesel and makes comparisons with the two past studies. The updated analysis showed that the fossil energy ratio (FER) of soybean biodiesel was 5.54 using 2006 agricultural data. This is a major improvement over the FER of 3.2 reported in the 1998 NREL study that used 1990 agricultural data and significantly better than the FER of 4.56 reported using 2002 data. The improvements are primarily due to improved soybean yields and more energy-efficient soybean crushing and conversion facilities. The energy input in soybean agriculture was reduced by 52%, in soybean crushing by 58% and in transesterification by 33% per unit volume of biodiesel produced. Overall, the energy input reduction was 42% for the same amount of biodiesel produced. The addition of secondary inputs, such as farm machinery and building materials, did not have a significant effect on the FER. The FER of soybean biodiesel is likely to continue to improve over time because of increases in soybean yields and the development of increasingly energy-efficient technologies.

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