Life Cycle Assessment Comparing the Use of Jatropha Biodiesel in the Indian Road and Rail Sectors

Posted by Amoussou Komlanvi
Full LCA available on the web
Publication year: 
Jatropha biodiesel
Quality and sources
Is the study a: 
Detailed LCA
Was a critical review performed?: 
Is the study compliant with ISO 14044?: 
Sponsor name(s): 
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Sponsor type: 
Public administration
Michael Whitaker
Garvin Heath
Practitioner(s) type: 
Institut/Technical research center
Functional unit: 
One thousand gross tonnes of goods or passengers hauled one kilometer (1000 gross tonne kilometer (GTK))
Goal and scope of the summary: 
This study employs life cycle assessment to estimate certain environmental sustainability and energy security impacts of substituting petroleum diesel with Jatropha biodiesel blends in the Indian transportation sector. Four diesel-consuming vehicle classes are considered : road-freight transport, road-passenger transport via buses, rail-freight transport, and rail-passenger transport ; to determine which class provides the greatest benefits compared to current petroleum diesel consumption. Passenger vehicles are not considered in this assessment because they are primarily fueled by gasoline. The primary sustainability and energy security metrics evaluated are net, life cycle GHG emissions, petroleum consumption, and net energy value (NEV). The study seeks to determine the relative reductions in GHG emissions and petroleum consumption and changes in NEV for multiple biodiesel blends compared to petroleum diesel,and to project potential absolute GHG and petroleum consumption reductions in each of the four analyzed transportation sectors for both current conditions (approximated with measured data from year 2006) and potential future conditions (approximated with projected data for year 2020).The base case scenario is modeled after projections from the Planning Commission (2003), which envisions a large-scale, centralized Jatropha cultivation and biodiesel production system utilizing marginal lands. The impact on results of alternative cultivation and biodiesel production scenarios are also evaluated. Finally, to help guide future Jatropha biodiesel research and development efforts in India, parametric sensitivity analysis is used to identify the most influential input parameters.
For the base case considered, this study found that, per gross-tonne kilometer traveled, a blend of B20 would reduce GHG emissions by 14%, reduce petroleum consumption by 17%, and increase the net energy value by 58% compared with the conventional diesel baseline. 
Using sensitivity analyses, this study also identified dry seed yield, seed oil content, and biodiesel fuel consumption efficiency as the individual parameters with the greatest influence on all three of the sustainability metrics evaluated. Additionally, this study confirmed that reductions in the GHG emissions and petroleum consumption are maintained under a range of plausible biodiesel cultivation, processing, and distribution scenarios, though GHG emissions reductions compared to petroleum diesel are reduced to zero if seed yield fall below 1,250 kg / ha-yr. 
Furthermore, while the base case did not consider the potential impacts of direct land-use change, a bounding
estimate using results from Reinhardt et al. (2008) found that the magnitude and direction of benefits would likely not change considerably even if those potential impacts were considered.
As agro-climatic conditions and optimal biodiesel feedstocks vary widely throughout the world, no one study can definitively determine the sustainability of biofuels in all scenarios. However, this study’s results—and the results of other reviewed studies—suggest that under multiple plausible growing conditions and production scenarios, Jatropha-based biodiesel shows promise for helping India achieve its GHG-emission reduction and petroleum displacement goals with the greatest potential reductions being achievable in the road bus, passenger transportation sector in the near term and in the road-freight transportation sector in 2020. However, additional economic and market penetration analyses are required to evaluate the potential for direct and indirect land-use change and co-product market viability associated with Jatropha cultivation expanding to meet required biodiesel production levels. In particular, expected seed and oil yields, required cultivation inputs, and existing site conditions, must be closely examined in assessing the sustainability of any proposed Jatropha biodiesel production project.

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