Rights: The University of Waikato Published 10 June 2008 Download

Peter Hall from Scion explains the importance at looking at the big picture when comparing the impact of different products and processes used to make biofuels.

Life cycle analysis looks at the big picture – it is an assessment of the environmental impacts of a product due to its existence – so when Peter Hall and his colleagues are evaluating biomass resources, they have to consider every step in the process from growing, processing and transporting to the disposal of waste products. For this type of analysis, everything must be accounted for – the use of fertilisers and water, and the emissions caused, not just by using the product, but also through transport and production.


The next phase of the project is life cycle analysis and life cycle analysis is a means of looking at all of the steps in producing something from its very beginning right to its disposal, so it’s a cradle to grave. So in terms of growing a tree, it would be, what were the inputs into growing it in terms of getting the seed from a seed orchard, growing it in the nursery, planting it, growing it right through, the roading necessary to build the roads to log it, the logging cost, the transport cost, all of the inputs into processing it, and its useful life, and then any emissions associated with disposing of it possibly into a land fill or some other use.

So it’s looking at all of the costs, materials, energy, things like fertiliser and land use, water that might get used, everything that goes into creating that product, right the way through and all the emissions associated with it. And that gives you a way of comparing what the impact is of various products, because there is a whole lot of things that you can grow or make but they all have a different carbon footprint and a different cost. And the life cycle analysis is a way of completely gathering all the information about the product and the process used to make it, and then being able to compare them on an equal footing and say this one is actually a better one because it has a lower cost and a lower carbon footprint.

Larry McCombs
David Harding, Wanganui Aero Work Ltd
John O’Neill