Environmental and climate change impacts of eighteen biomassbased plants in the alpine region: A comparative analysis
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In the energy and climate policy commitments of the European Union, the following targets have been foreseen up to 2030: reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of 40%, improving the energy conversion efficiency of 27%, and producing 27% of the energy from renewable energy sources. Nowadays, thanks to the development of reliable and efficient technologies, several possibilities exist to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, such as wind power, solar, hydropower, geothermal, and biomass. In the Alpine region, biomass can play a key role for achieving the objectives foreseen by the EU policy strategy. In the last few years, due to the high available potentials of residues from forestry operations and sawmill processing, the Alpine region witnessed the development of centralized biomass district heating plants. The aim of the present study is to assess the environmental impacts of 18 biomass-based plants located in the Alpine region using a Life Cycle Assessment approach and to analyse the current market destination of the wood residues. The data were collected through face-to-face interviews with the stakeholders of the forest-wood supply chain (managers of biomass-based plant, sawmills, forest owners and enterprises). From the environmental point of view, the results of the Life Cycle Assessment (global climate change impact: 5e90 gCO2 MJ1) show that the “critical points” in the forest-wood supply chain are: the transport phase (1e54 gCO2 MJ1) and the wood processing phase (6e36 gCO2 MJ1). The results provided by Life Cycle Assessment can be used to increase the scientific knowledge of the environmental impacts related to the biomass conversion technology and to underline the weak points of the forestwood supply chain. Furthermore, these results can support the decision makers in defining climate change mitigation strategies at regional and local level.