Renewable energy is currently a major topic in the EU as Member States focus on meeting their energy targets for 2020. The commitment of Luxembourg to use more biogas raises questions with regard to its origin and sources of production. Can the maize required to produce biogas be farmed locally? What impact would this have on other crops and on the environment, notably in terms of land use? And if the maize were to be imported, what would be the impact in the countries of origin? LUCAS aims to study the overall environmental impact generated by the chain of consequences that would result from the change in land use connected to the production of biogas in Luxembourg.
The European Energy 2020 Strategy aims to improve energy efficiency, infrastructure, technologies and security EU-wide. Luxembourg’s national action plan includes the target of obtaining 11% of all energy from renewable sources by 2020, up from the 2009 level of only 2.8%. One promising source of renewable energy is biogas, which is produced from agricultural crops such as maize. However, using these crops for energy production can have indirect environmental impacts that need to be taken into consideration. For instance, if a given country begins importing a certain crop, other countries may have to increase production to meet this demand by displacing another crop, using more surface area or through intensification (i.e. improving fertilizer and pesticide application strategies to increase yield). The environmental, economic and other consequences of this indirect land use change need to be considered before moving to biogas, but no model for Luxembourg is currently available that looks at all these aspects in a detailed and comprehensive manner.
LUCAS aims to develop a methodology to assess the indirect consequences of increased biogas production in Luxembourg, focusing on the consequences of indirect land use change linked to biomass cultivation. This methodology will then be used to assess the specific case of biomethane production from maize. To meet the 2020 target, Luxembourg will either need to produce or import more biomass to be used for biogas. The project will simulate the local consequences of increased maize cultivation as well as the worldwide consequences (if any) of increased import of maize through a comprehensive model that expands the Life Cycle Inventory to give a global view of the effects of bioenergy use. It will build on the development of a partial economic equilibrium model for Luxembourg's agricultural sector. The model will make it possible to assess changes in land use and the resulting chain of consequences. The results obtained from the model will be used in Consequential Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of the production of biogas from corn.
The project will also focus on creating public and governmental awareness of the need for this comprehensive view. Intermediate project results were presented in Luxembourg at the international workshop “Managing Complexity in Land Use and Environmental Impacts Modelling” and in Berlin at the international scientific conference "6th SETAC World Congress", in May 2012.
LUCAS will lend transparency to the decision-making of Luxembourgish institutions by providing a clear picture of the positive and negative effects of increased national biogas consumption. This project gives Tudor the opportunity to build innovative competences in Consequential Life Cycle Assessment, and to develop a partial equilibrium model for consequential LCA unique to the field that could be used as a basis for similar studies in other countries and on other crops. The project will also raise local awareness about the links between biogas consumption and the economy, environment and society.