Integrating social and value dimensions into sustainability assessment of lignocellulosic biofuels

Sujatha Raman*, Alison Mohr, Richard Helliwell, Barbara Ribeiro, Orla Shortall, Robert Smith, Kate Millar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The paper clarifies the social and value dimensions for integrated sustainability assessments of lignocellulosic biofuels. We develop a responsible innovation approach, looking at technology impacts and implementation challenges, assumptions and value conflicts influencing how impacts are identified and assessed, and different visions for future development. We identify three distinct value-based visions. From a techno-economic perspective, lignocellulosic biofuels can contribute to energy security with improved GHG implications and fewer sustainability problems than fossil fuels and first-generation biofuels, especially when biomass is domestically sourced. From socio-economic and cultural-economic perspectives, there are concerns about the capacity to support UK-sourced feedstocks in a global agri-economy, difficulties monitoring large-scale supply chains and their potential for distributing impacts unfairly, and tensions between domestic sourcing and established legacies of farming. To respond to these concerns, we identify the potential for moving away from a one-size-fits-all biofuel/biorefinery model to regionally-tailored bioenergy configurations that might lower large-scale uses of land for meat, reduce monocultures and fossil-energy needs of farming and diversify business models. These configurations could explore ways of reconciling some conflicts between food, fuel and feed (by mixing feed crops with lignocellulosic material for fuel, combining livestock grazing with energy crops, or using crops such as miscanthus to manage land that is no longer arable); different bioenergy applications (with on-farm use of feedstocks for heat and power and for commercial biofuel production); and climate change objectives and pressures on farming. Findings are based on stakeholder interviews, literature synthesis and discussions with an expert advisory group.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-62
Number of pages14
JournalBiomass and Bioenergy
Volume82
Early online date23 May 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015

Keywords

  • lignocellulosic biofuels
  • integrated sustainability assessment
  • social and value dimensions of technology
  • agricultural systems
  • responsible innovation

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