Estimating the energy return on investment of forestry biomass: Impacts of feedstock, production techniques and post-processing

Martin Colla, Etienne de Chambost, Louis Merceron, Julien Blondeau, Herve Jeanmart, Guillaume Boissonnet

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Abstract

The Energy Return On Investment (EROI) is a recognised indicator for assessing the relevance of an energy project in terms of net energy delivered to society. For woody biomass divergences remain on the right methodology to assess the EROI leading to large variations in the published estimates. This article presents an in-depth discussion about the EROI of woody biomass in three different forms: woodchips, pellets and liquid fuels. The conceptualisation of EROI is further developed to reach a consistent definition for biomass post-processed fuels. It considers, on top of the external energy investments, the grey energy associated with the energy used to enrich the fuel. With the proposed methodology, all woodchips have an EROI of the same order of magnitude, between 20 and 37, depending on forestry types, operations and machineries. For secondary residues, the first estimate is 170 if, as co-products, no energy investment is allocated to the forestry operations and transport. On the basis of a mass allocation for forestry operations and transport, the EROI for secondary residues becomes of the same order of magnitude as that for wood chips. Woodchips can be further post-processed into pellets or liquid fuels. Pellets have an EROI of 4–7 if the heat is externally supplied and 8–23 if internally supplied (self-consumption of part of the raw material). Liquid fuels derived from primary wood and residues through gasification and Fischer-Tropsch synthesis have an EROI between 4 and 16. Fuel enhancement with hydrogen (Power & Biomass to Liquids) impacts negatively the EROI due to the low EROI of hydrogen produced from renewable electricity. However, these fuels offer other advantages such as improved carbon efficiency. A correct estimate of EROI for forestry biomass, as proposed in this work, is a necessary dimension in assessing the suitability of a project.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13146
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal change biology. Bioenergy
Volume16
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2024

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© 2024 The Authors. GCB Bioenergy published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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