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Saving the Planet’s Climate or Water Resources? The Trade-Off between Carbon and Water Footprints of European Biofuels

Chair of Sustainable Engineering, Department of Environmental Technology, Technische Universität Berlin, 10623 Berlin, Germany
ETH Zürich, Institute of Environmental Engineering, 8093 Zurich, Switzerland
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Arjen Y. Hoekstra
Sustainability 2015, 7(6), 6665-6683;
Received: 2 March 2015 / Revised: 13 May 2015 / Accepted: 19 May 2015 / Published: 26 May 2015
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Water Footprints and Sustainable Water Allocation)
Little information regarding the global water footprint of biofuels consumed in Europe is available. Therefore, the ultimate origin of feedstock underlying European biodiesel and bioethanol consumption was investigated and combined with the irrigation requirements of different crops in different countries. A (blue) water consumption of 1.9 m3 in 12 countries per GJ of European biodiesel and 3.3 m3 in 23 countries per GJ of bioethanol was determined. Even though this represents an increase by a factor of 60 and 40 compared to fossil diesel and gasoline, these figures are low compared to global average data. The assessment of local consequences has shown that the irrigation of sunflower seed in Spain causes 50% of the impacts resulting from biodiesel—even though it constitutes only 0.9% of the feedstock. In case of bioethanol production, the irrigation of sugar cane in Egypt, which constitutes only 0.7% of the underlying feedstock, causes 20% of the impacts. In a case study on passenger cars, it was shown that biofuels can reduce the global warming potential by circa 50% along the product life cycle. However, the price of this improvement is an approximate 19 times increased water consumption, and resulting local impacts are even more severe. View Full-Text
Keywords: water footprint; carbon footprint; biofuels; cars; transport water footprint; carbon footprint; biofuels; cars; transport
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Berger, M.; Pfister, S.; Bach, V.; Finkbeiner, M. Saving the Planet’s Climate or Water Resources? The Trade-Off between Carbon and Water Footprints of European Biofuels. Sustainability 2015, 7, 6665-6683.

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