Assessing the viability of bioproducts and bioprocesses considering economic, policy and regulatory constraints

Even though bioproducts are made from renewable resources, their overall environmental benefits depend strongly on the details of their production, use and disposal.  The type of feedstock, how it is grown, harvested and processed, and how the end product is distributed to market all contribute to its overall environmental footprint, as do impacts during use and after disposal.  The BEEM team includes researchers with particular expertise in assessing the full set of 'costs and benefits' associated with the entire life cycle of bioproducts who will ensure that those generated by the project contribute toward a more sustainable bio-economy.

The primary tool for understanding environmental impacts of a product or process is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).  LCA is intended to provide systematic inventories and impact assessments of the full environmental implications of a product throughout its life cycle.  Thus far, most studies of bio-based systems have focused on energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.  Additional metrics are urgently needed, specifically to assess global, regional and local impacts on air, soil, water quality and habitat, and the land-use changes and implications of large scale production.  To date, ethical, legal and regulatory issues have also received limited attention in the development of bioproducts.

BEEM researchers aim to:

  • Develop a quantitative LCA tool for assessing key environmental and resource metrics for new bioproducts that allow them to be benchmarked against existing products
  • Complete several case studies that apply the tool to new bioproducts or bioprocesses developed in the BEEM project, to asses their relative merits and disadvantages and chart opportunities for improvement
  • Provide sound, quantitative information on scenarios under which a bioproduct industry could be sustained through appropriate public policies, monetization of greenhouse gas emissions, pollution credits and resource costs.

LCA researchers work in close collaboration with BEEM's experimental and computational researchers, industry partners and relevant government agencies, providing ongoing feedback to help guide the selection of promising bioproducts at every stage of the project.  Case studies will include those related to biogas / anaerobic digestion, biopolymers and co-products of bioproducts systems.  Components of the life cycle (e.g. inputs, land requirements, yields) that have the greatest potential to significantly improve environmental performance will be identified so that steps can be taken in the experimental program to maximize these benefits.

The new microbial cultures and enzymes identified through the BEEM project have the potential to dramatically impact the environmental footprint of new and emerging biotechnologies through mitigation of waste products and through the sustainable production of value-added products from renewable resources.  BEEM research will stimulate learning at the intersection of public policy and technology so that sound policy judgments can be made on the basis of sound, quantitative science, while public policy concerns inform the development of new technologies.


Impacts of co-location, co- production, and process energy source on life cycle energy use and greenhouse gas emissions of lignocellulosic ethanol McKechnie, J., Zhang, Y., Ogino, A., Saville, B., Sleep, S., Turner, M., Pontius, R., and H.L. MacLean
Impact of cellulase production on environmental and financial metrics for lignocellulosic ethanol Hong, Y., Nizami, A.-S., Bafrani, M.P., Saville, B.A., and H.L. MacLean
Bioplastic products from citrus wastes Pourbafrani, M., McKechnie, J., MacLean, H.L., and B.A. Saville