Abstract The use of bio-energy crops for electricity production is considered an effective means to mitigate the greenhouse effect, mainly due to its ability to substitute fossil fuels. A whole range of crops qualify for bio-energy production and a rational choice is not readily made. This paper evaluates the energy and greenhouse gas balance of a mixed indigenous hardwood coppice as an extensive, low-input bio-energy crop. The impact on fossil energy use and greenhouse gas emission is calculated and discussed by comparing its life cycle (cultivation, processing and conversion into energy) with two conventional bio-energy crops (short rotation systems of willow and Miscanthus). For each life cycle process, the flows of fossil energy and greenhouse gas that are created for the production of one functional unit are calculated. The results show that low-input bio-energy crops use comparatively less fossil fuel and avoid more greenhouse gas emission per unit of produced energy than conventional bio-energy crops during the first 100 yr . Where the mixed coppice system avoids up till 0.13 t CO 2 eq./GJ, Miscanthus does not exceed 0.07 t CO 2 eq./GJ. After 100 yr their performances become comparable, amounting to 0.05 t CO 2 eq./ha/GJ. However, if the land surface itself is chosen as a functional unit, conventional crops perform better with respect to mitigating the greenhouse effect. Miscanthus avoids a maximum of 12.9 t CO 2 eq./ha/yr, while mixed coppice attains 9.5 t CO 2 eq./ha/yr at the most.

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