Holmatov B, Hoekstra AY & Krol MS (2019), 'Land, water and carbon footprints of circular bioenergy production systems', Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, vol. 111, pp. 224–235. DOI: 10.1016/j.rser.2019.04.085; also available in gold open access on Zenodo.
Renewable energy sources can help combat climate change but knowing the land, water and carbon implications of different renewable energy production mixes becomes a key. This paper systematically applies land, water and carbon footprint accounting methods to calculate resource appropriation and CO2eq GHG emissions of two energy scenarios. The ‘100% scenario’ is meant as a thinking exercise and assumes a complete transition towards bioenergy, mostly as bioelectricity and some first-generation biofuel. The ‘SDS-bio scenario’ is inspired by IEA's sustainable development scenario and assumes a 9.8% share of bioenergy in the final mix, with a high share of first-generation biofuel. Energy inputs into production are calculated by differentiating inputs into fuel versus electricity and exclude fossil fuels used for non-energy purposes. Results suggest that both scenarios can lead to emission savings, but at a high cost of land and water resources. A 100% shift to bioenergy is not possible from water and land perspectives. The SDS-bio scenario, when using the most efficient feedstocks (sugar beet and sugarcane), would still require 11–14% of the global arable land and a water flow equivalent to 18–25% of the current water footprint of humanity. In comparative terms, using sugar or starchy crops to produce bioenergy results in smaller footprints than using oil-bearing crops. Regardless of the choice of crop, converting the biomass to combined heat and power results in smaller land, water and carbon footprints per unit of energy than when converting to electricity alone or liquid biofuel.