Lifecycle greenhouse gas implications of US national scenarios for cellulosic ethanol production

Corinne D. Scown*, William W. Nazaroff, Umakant Mishra, Bret Strogen, Agnes B. Lobscheid, Eric Masanet, Nicholas J. Santero, Arpad Horvath, Thomas E. McKone

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 set an annual US national production goal of 39.7billionl of cellulosic ethanol by 2020. This paper explores the possibility of meeting that target by growing and processing Miscanthus × giganteus. We define and assess six production scenarios in which active cropland and/or Conservation Reserve Program land are used to grow to Miscanthus. The crop and biorefinery locations are chosen with consideration of economic, land-use, water management and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction objectives. Using lifecycle assessment, the net GHG footprint of each scenario is evaluated, providing insight into the climate costs and benefits associated with each scenarios objectives. Assuming that indirect land-use change is successfully minimized or mitigated, the results suggest two major drivers for overall GHG impact of cellulosic ethanol from Miscanthus: (a)net soil carbon sequestration or emissions during Miscanthus cultivation and (b)GHG offset credits for electricity exported by biorefineries to the grid. Without these factors, the GHG intensity of bioethanol from Miscanthus is calculated to be 11-13g CO2-equivalent per MJ of fuel, which is 80-90% lower than gasoline. Including soil carbon sequestration and the power-offset credit results in net GHG sequestration up to 26g CO2-equivalent per MJ of fuel.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number014011
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2012


  • Miscanthus
  • biofuels
  • ethanol
  • greenhouse gases (GHG)
  • lifecycle assessment (LCA)
  • scenarios

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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