Global demand for renewable energy has increased drastically over the last decade due to new climate change policies implemented in many jurisdictions. Wood pellets made from primary wood processing mill residues represent an attractive source of renewable energy that can be used in the environmental global challenge. However, the environmental impacts involved in their manufacture must be considered to measure the real benefits they can provide to the atmosphere. The general aim of this study was to evaluate the environmental impacts of wood pellet production at two Quebec plants using the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology and considering a gate-to-gate approach. The paper focuses on the different stages involved in wood pellet production; from the recovery of mill residues, through the pelletization process, to pellet bagging. The paper further expands to a cradle-to-grave analysis comparing the environmental footprints of producing and combusting 1 GJ of energy from wood pellets, natural gas and fossil fuel oil. The analysis suggested that the drying and the pelletizing stages were the largest negative factors affecting the environmental performance of wood pellet production. The comparison demonstrated the environmental advantage of using renewable rather than fossil sources of energy. Considering the growing interest in renewable energy, biomass in particular, and the lack of environmental information on wood pellets, this study could be useful not only for forest sector-related industries but also for the energy sector and policymakers.
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