An anticipatory life cycle assessment of the use of biochar from sugarcane residues as a greenhouse gas removal technology

David Lefebvre*, Adrian Williams, Guy J.D. Kirk, Jeroen Meersmans, Saran Sohi, Pietro Goglio, Pete Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Greenhouse gas removal technologies are needed to reach the targets of the UNFCCC Paris Agreement. Among existing technologies, the use of biochar is considered promising, particularly biochar derived from the large quantities of sugarcane residues available in South America and elsewhere. However, the net greenhouse gas removal potential of sugarcane biochar has not been assessed hitherto. We use a scenario-based anticipatory life cycle assessment to investigate the emissions associated with a change from the combustion of sugarcane residues in a combined heat and power plant to the pyrolysis of these residues for biochar production and field application in São Paulo State, Brazil. We define scenarios based on different mean marginal electricity production and biochar production share. The results indicate that emissions from covering the electricity deficit generated by partial combustion of biomass during biochar production is the main emitting process. Overall, the processes associated with biochar production lower the net greenhouse gas benefits of the biochar by around 25%. Our analysis suggests that allocating 100% of the available sugarcane residues to biochar production could sequester 6.3 ± 0.5 t CO2eq ha−1 yr−1 of sugarcane in São Paulo State. Scaled up to the entire State, the practice could lead to the removal of 23% of the total amount of GHGs emitted by the State in 2016.

Original languageEnglish
Article number127764
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Early online date2 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Greenhouse gas removal technology (GGRT)
  • LCA
  • Negative emissions technology (NET)
  • Saccharum officinarum L.
  • Sugarcane


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