Biofuels are being promoted as a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels as they could help to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the related climate change impact from transport. However, there are also concerns that their wider deployment could lead to unintended environmental consequences. Numerous life cycle assessment (LCA) studies have considered the climate change and other environmental impacts of biofuels. However, their findings are often conflicting, with a wide variation in the estimates. Thus, the aim of this paper is to review and analyse the latest available evidence to provide a greater clarity and understanding of the environmental impacts of different liquid biofuels. It is evident from the review that the outcomes of LCA studies are highly situational and dependent on many factors, including the type of feedstock, production routes, data variations and methodological choices. Despite this, the existing evidence suggests that, if no land-use change (LUC) is involved, first-generation biofuels can—on average—have lower GHG emissions than fossil fuels, but the reductions for most feedstocks are insufficient to meet the GHG savings required by the EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED). However, second-generation biofuels have, in general, a greater potential to reduce the emissions, provided there is no LUC. Third-generation biofuels do not represent a feasible option at present state of development as their GHG emissions are higher than those from fossil fuels. As also discussed in the paper, several studies show that reductions in GHG emissions from biofuels are achieved at the expense of other impacts, such as acidification, eutrophication, water footprint and biodiversity loss. The paper also investigates the key methodological aspects and sources of uncertainty in the LCA of biofuels and provides recommendations to address these issues.


  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transport have been increasing at a faster rate than from any other sector [1]

  • As first-generation biofuels may involve land-use change (LUC), which in turn can affect significantly the total global warming potential (GWP), the results reported in the literature are discussed first for the cases without and with LUC

  • life cycle assessment (LCA) is widely used as a tool to estimate GWP and other environmental impacts of biofuels

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Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transport have been increasing at a faster rate than from any other sector [1]. To reduce dependence on petroleum-based fuels, as well as to mitigate climate change, biofuels are viewed widely as promising alternative transportation fuels. Until the 1940s, biofuels were seen as viable transport fuels and bioethanol blends, such as Agrol, Discol and Monopolin, were commonly used in the USA, Europe and other regions [3]. During the late 1990s, with the rise in crude oil prices and concerns over energy security, the USA and many nations in Europe developed policies in support of domestic biofuel industries [5]. The interest in biofuels further increased in the past decade with the development of policies on climate change mitigation and strategies to reduce GHG emissions from the transport sector. The most notable are Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) [7] in the USA and the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) in Europe [8]


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