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Licentiate thesis, 2020

Time and spatial dependent climate impact of grass cultivation and grass-based biogas system

Nilsson, Johan


AnkareOne strategy to limit global warming is to phase out fossil products and replace them with bio-based alternatives. This is often referred to as transitioning from a fossil economy to a bioeconomy. In this transition, it is important to know the environmental impact of bio-based products, since it can be greater than that of the fossil products they replace. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a suitable methodology for studying the impact of bio-based products, since it encompasses the whole life cycle of the product. However, LCA rarely considers spatial and temporal variations in impacts. It also rarely includes soil processes such as soil carbon balance and only roughly estimates nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from soil.

In this thesis, LCA was combined with the agro-ecosystem model DNDC to include these soil processes and their variations over time and space. The combined method was used to assess climate impact and eutrophication in grass production at five sites in central and southern Sweden and the climate impact and energy balance in grass-based biogas production in Uppsala municipality, Sweden. Analysis of grass cultivation with two fertilisation rates (140 and 200 kg N ha-1) at different Swedish sites revealed that the higher rate gave a lower climate impact per Mg harvested biomass, but that site properties were more important than fertilisation intensity in determining the climate impact.

Analysis of grass for biogas production, which was assumed to be cultivated on fallow land, was conducted for more than 1000 regional sites with different properties in Uppsala municipality and the whole life cycle was included (cradle to grave). The results showed large variations in impact between different sites, depending on weather conditions, soil properties, transport distances etc. The greenhouse gas fluxes from grass cultivation with the greatest climate impact were soil N2O emissions and emissions from fertiliser manufacture, which contributed to global warming, and changes in soil carbon balance, which generally had a climate mitigating effect. Overall, grass cultivation increased soil carbon stocks, but this effect was highly site- and time-dependent. The grass-based biogas production system reduced the climate impact significantly compared with the reference fallow-diesel-mineral fertiliser system.

The method developed in this thesis, where LCA was combined with agro-ecosystem modelling, could be used to assess the environmental impact of agricultural systems in other regions. The results could then also be used to assist policymakers in optimising agricultural land use planning for food, feed and fuel production.


Life Cycle Assessment (LCA); soil carbon sequestration; soil N2O emissions; DNDC model; biomethane; digestate; greenhouse gas emissions; perennial cropping systems

Published in

Rapport (Institutionen för energi och teknik, SLU)
2020, number: 110
ISBN: 978-91-576-9750-9, eISBN: 978-91-576-9751-6
Publisher: Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet, Institutionen för energi och teknik

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Energy and Technology

UKÄ Subject classification

Environmental Management

URI (permanent link to this page)