Life Cycle Analysis of Renewable Natural Gas and Lactic Acid Production from Waste Feedstocks

Uisung Lee, Arpit Bhatt, Troy Hawkins, Ling Tao, Pahola Benavides, Michael Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus Citations


Producing fuels and chemicals from waste is considered economically favorable, due to low feedstock cost, and environmentally favorable, due to avoided emissions from conventional waste management practices. In this study, we evaluate the life cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction benefits of renewable natural gas (RNG) and lactic acid (LA) production from four types of wet waste feedstocks (wastewater sludge, food waste, swine manure, and fats, oil, and grease [FOG]) via anaerobic digestion (AD) and LA fermentation, respectively. RNG can be used as an alternative to fossil natural gas, while LA from waste feedstocks can displace conventional LA production pathways (mainly from corn via fermentation). Providing comprehensive life cycle GHG emissions of the combinations of waste feedstocks and products through different routes helps identify the GHG hotspots and show where emissions savings come from. The results show that the carbon intensities (CIs) of waste-derived RNG and LA are much lower than those of their counterparts. We estimated the life cycle GHG emissions for RNG to be between −146 and 27 g carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)/MJ, much lower than the CI of fossil fuels. Waste-derived LA pathways also show substantially lower CIs, ranging from −4.2 to −1.4 kgCO2e/kg LA, compared to the CIs of LA from corn and corn stover (1.2 and 0.3 kgCO2e/kg LA, respectively). We will also discuss that the low CIs of waste-derived products can come from low yields leading to high emission credits. Thus, life cycle analysis results presented per weight of treated waste can be used to support decisions about which waste feedstocks and products are to be used for sustainable waste valorization. In addition, we found that monetary emission reduction credits can play an important role in driving waste valorization.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numberArticle No. 127653
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
StatePublished - 15 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-78160


  • Anaerobic digestion
  • Carbon intensity
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Lactic acid
  • Lactic acid fermentation
  • Life cycle analysis
  • Renewable natural gas
  • Waste


Dive into the research topics of 'Life Cycle Analysis of Renewable Natural Gas and Lactic Acid Production from Waste Feedstocks'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this