Life-Cycle Analysis of Integrated Biorefineries with Co-Production of Biofuels and Bio-Based Chemicals: Co-Product Handling Methods and Implications

Mary Biddy, Ryan Davis, Eric Tan, Hao Cai, Jeongwoo Han, Michael Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus Citations


New integrated biorefinery (IBR) concepts are being investigated to co-produce hydrocarbon fuels and high-value bio-based chemicals to improve the economic viability of IBRs, to enhance biomass resource utilization efficiencies, and to maximize potential greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions. Unlike fuel-only biorefineries, IBRs may co-produce a significant amount of bio-based chemicals, whose emission implications for specific biorefinery products and the biorefinery as a whole need to be evaluated. We discuss this in principle and apply three sets of co-product handling methods to conduct life-cycle analysis (LCA) of modeled IBRs with co-production of two bioproduct examples – succinic acid and adipic acid – alongside a renewable diesel blendstock fuel product. The LCA results for the specific co-product handling methods that were examined shed light on potential artifacts of product-specific LCA with selected co-product methods. We discuss the advantages and limitations of each method and conclude that (i) a system-level or ‘black-box’ LCA allocation method is too simplistic to reflect appropriately the GHG burdens of distinctly different processing trains for fuels and chemicals in the IBR context, and (ii) the displacement method is the only co-product handling method that accounts fully for the emission effects of both the fuel product and the non-fuel bio-based co-products in the IBRs within the context of the existing fuel-focused GHG regulatory framework. Alternatively, biorefinery system-level LCA combines benefits of individual products to offer a complete picture. This system-level LCA approach offers a holistic LCA without somewhat arbitrary decisions either on an allocation basis or by the selection of an evaluation metric based on specific products.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)815-833
Number of pages19
JournalBiofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-71413


  • biorefinery-level analysis
  • co-product handling methods
  • displacement method
  • integrated biorefineries
  • life-cycle analysis


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