Environmental Science & Technology | VOL. 42

Energy and Greenhouse Gas Profiles of Polyhydroxybutyrates Derived from Corn Grain: A Life Cycle Perspective

Publication Date Oct 15, 2008


Polyhydroxybutyrates (PHB) are well-known biopolymers derived from sugars orvegetable oils. Cradle-to-gate environmental performance of PHB derived from corn grain is evaluated through life cycle assessment (LCA), particularly nonrenewable energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Site-specific process information on the corn wet milling and PHB fermentation and recovery processes was obtained from Telles. Most of energy used in the corn wet milling and PHB fermentation and recovery processes is generated in a cogeneration power plant in which corn stover, assumed to be representative of a variety of biomass sources that could be used, is burned to generate electricity and steam. County level agricultural information is used in estimating the environmental burdens associated with both corn grain and corn stover production. Results show that PHB derived from corn grain offers environmental advantages over petroleum-derived polymers in terms of nonrenewable energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, PHB provides greenhouse gas credits, and thus PHB use reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared to petroleum-derived polymers. Corn cultivation is one of the environmentally sensitive areas in the PHB production system. More sustainable practices in corn cultivation (e.g., using no-tillage and winter cover crops) could reduce the environmental impacts of PHB by up to 72%.

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Corn Wet Milling
Corn Cultivation
Corn Grain
Corn Stover Production
Nonrenewable Energy Consumption
Cogeneration Power Plant
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Wet Fermentation
Milling Recovery

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