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Quantifying environmental impacts of poplar biomass production in the U.S. Pacific Northwest

Marcia Vasquez, Michael Milota, Arijit Sinha


The life cycle impacts were determined for poplar-managed four ways in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Two sites had 3-yr rotations and either no irrigation (Site 1) or irrigation with river water (Site 2). The other sites had 12-yr rotations and irrigation with wastewater from a treatment facility (Site 3) or irrigation with landfill leachate (Site 4). Primary data for land preparation, plantation management, harvesting, and land restoration at each site and the production of cuttings at an additional facility were collected. A cradle to gate life cycle assessment was conducted using SimaPro PhD v8 based on the primary data and secondary data from the US life cycle inventory and ecoinvent v3 database to create a life cycle inventory. Impact indicators were provided by TRACI model. Short rotations resulted in lower global warming impact per unit output (79.5 and 54.5 kg CO2 eq/t) and energy consumption (1381.8 and 877.4 MJ/t) than long rotations (93.1 and 81 kg CO2 eq/t and 1406.9 and 1343.5 MJ/t) mainly due to reduced diesel use. Higher planting densities resulted in greater water and electrical consumption attributed to cuttings. Pesticide and herbicide use strongly affected ozone depletion and eutrophication, whereas fuel consumption had strong effects on global warming impact, smog, and acidification. Increasing biomass yield reduced impacts. When the electricity was all from biomass, global warming and acidification decreased; however, ozone depletion, smog, and eutrophication increased. The results suggested that both, herbicide application during plantation management and diesel consumed during harvesting at these sites should be optimized to decrease the environmental impacts.




Short rotation woody crops ∙ Plantation management ∙ Irrigation systems ∙ Cuttings ∙ Life cycle assessment (LCA) · Environmental impacts

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