Background: The last decade has seen major development and adoption of bioenergy, particularly in Germany. This has resulted in a scattering of decentralised bioenergy plants across the landscape, due to their dependency on spatially diffuse biomass resources. Regional conditions (e.g., soils, climate, management) influence the environmental burdens resulting from biomass production and thus, also effect the environmental performance of bioenergy production. Therefore, more regionally focused life cycle approaches are required for assessing these bioenergy systems. The aim of this paper is to outline such an approach. “RELCA”, is a regional life cycle inventory for assessing the regional and spatial variation in the environmental performance of bioenergy production within a region. Methods: Five modelling steps are combined to form the RELCA approach in order to determine: (1) regional crop allocation, (2) regional biomass management, (3) representative bioenergy plant models, (4) bioenergy plant catchments, and (5) indirect upstream emissions (non-regional) associated with regional bioenergy production. The challenges and options for each of these five modelling steps are outlined. Additionally, a simple example is provided using greenhouse gases emissions (GHG) to show how RELCA can be used to identify the potential regional distribution of environmental burdens associated with the production of a bioenergy product (e.g. biodiesel) within a region. Results: An approach for combining regionally distributed inventory for biomass production with regionally distributed inventory for bioenergy technologies, through the use of catchment delineation was developed. This enabled the introduction of greater regional details within the life cycle approach. As a first “proof of concept,” GHG emissions were estimated for a simple example, illustrating how RELCA can identify the potential regional distribution of environmental burdens (direct and indirect) associated with producing a bioenergy product. Conclusions: RELCA (v1.0) is a powerful scoping approach, which is the first to investigate the regional and spatial variation in the environmental performance of bioenergy production within a region through the use of catchment delineation. RELCA (v1.0) is not without its limitations. Despite these, it still provides a good starting point for further discussion, improvements, and modelling developments for assessing the regional and spatial environmental implications of bioenergy production (e.g., such as impacts to soil, water, and biodiversity) for a within regional context.
- Life cycle inventory
- Spatial assessment