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Sustainability 2017, 9(1), 5; doi:10.3390/su9010005

Environmental Performance of Miscanthus, Switchgrass and Maize: Can C4 Perennials Increase the Sustainability of Biogas Production?

Department Biobased Products and Energy Crops, Institute of Crop Science, University of Hohenheim, Fruwirthstrasse 23, 70599 Stuttgart, Germany
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Academic Editor: Michael Wachendorf
Received: 31 October 2016 / Revised: 13 December 2016 / Accepted: 15 December 2016 / Published: 22 December 2016
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biomass Energy Conversion)
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Abstract

Biogas is considered a promising option for complementing the fluctuating energy supply from other renewable sources. Maize is currently the dominant biogas crop, but its environmental performance is questionable. Through its replacement with high-yielding and nutrient-efficient perennial C4 grasses, the environmental impact of biogas could be considerably improved. The objective of this paper is to assess and compare the environmental performance of the biogas production and utilization of perennial miscanthus and switchgrass and annual maize. An LCA was performed using data from field trials, assessing the impact in the five categories: climate change (CC), fossil fuel depletion (FFD), terrestrial acidification (TA), freshwater eutrophication (FE) and marine eutrophication (ME). A system expansion approach was adopted to include a fossil reference. All three crops showed significantly lower CC and FFD potentials than the fossil reference, but higher TA and FE potentials, with nitrogen fertilizer production and fertilizer-induced emissions identified as hot spots. Miscanthus performed best and changing the input substrate from maize to miscanthus led to average reductions of −66% CC; −74% FFD; −63% FE; −60% ME and −21% TA. These results show that perennial C4 grasses and miscanthus in particular have the potential to improve the sustainability of the biogas sector. View Full-Text
Keywords: anaerobic digestion; Miscanthus x giganteus; Panicum virgatum; Zea mays; LCA; GWP; carbon mitigation; fossil fuel depletion; acidification; eutrophication anaerobic digestion; Miscanthus x giganteus; Panicum virgatum; Zea mays; LCA; GWP; carbon mitigation; fossil fuel depletion; acidification; eutrophication
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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Kiesel, A.; Wagner, M.; Lewandowski, I. Environmental Performance of Miscanthus, Switchgrass and Maize: Can C4 Perennials Increase the Sustainability of Biogas Production? Sustainability 2017, 9, 5.

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