We examined life cycle environmental and economic implications of two near-term scenarios for converting cellulosic biomass to energy, generating electricity from cofiring biomass in existing coal power plants, and producing ethanol from biomass in stand-alone facilities in Ontario, Canada. The study inventories near-term bio-mass supply in the province, quantifies environmental metrics associated with the use of agricultural residues for producing electricity and ethanol, determines the incremental costs of switching from fossil fuels to biomass, and compares the cost-effectiveness of greenhouse gas (GHG) and air pollutant emissions abatement achieved through the use of the bioenergy. Implementing a biomass cofiring rate of 10% in existing coal-fired power plants would reduce annual GHG emissions by 2.3 million metric tons (t) of CO2 equivalent (7% of the province’s coal power plant emissions). The substitution of gasoline with ethanol/gasoline blends would reduce annual provincial light-duty vehicle fleet emissions between 1.3 and 2.5 million t of CO2 equivalent (3.5–7% of fleet emissions). If biomass sources other than agricultural residues were used, additional emissions reductions could be realized. At current crude oil prices ($70/barrel) and levels of technology development of the bioenergy alternatives, the biomass electricity cofiring scenario analyzed is more cost-effective for mitigating GHG emissions ($22/t of CO2 equivalent for a 10% cofiring rate) than the stand-alone ethanol production scenario ($92/t of CO2 equivalent). The economics of biomass cofiring benefits from existing capital, whereas the cellulosic ethanol scenario does not. Notwithstanding this result, there are several factors that increase the attractiveness of ethanol. These include uncertainty in crude oil prices, potential for marked improvements in cellulosic ethanol technology and economics, the province’s commitment to 5% ethanol content in gasoline, the possibility of ethanol production benefiting from existing capital, and there being few alternatives for moderate-to-large-scale GHG emissions reductions in the transportation sector.

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