Impacts of biofuel production on ecosystem services mapped in new report

Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. There is evidence that biofuels offer ecosystem services but also compromise other services. However, there is limited knowledge about how the production of biofuels affect ecosystem services and related synergies and trade-offs. The production of biofuels may influence important ecosystem services, such as for example bioenergy for different purposes, soil quality, carbon sequestration and recreation.

A newly finished study within the collaborative research program Renewable transportation fuels and systems (Förnybara drivmedel och system) synthesizes and assesses the current knowledge and state-of-the art on the potential impact of the intensification of biomass production for biofuel production on ecosystem services for different biofuel pro­duction schemes. The project has been lead by Karin Hansen, IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, with participants from IVL, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and Stockholm University (SU).

The project group has accounted for impacts of biofuel production on ecosystem services in a Swedish perspective. Forest biomass based biofuels (HVO from tall oil and methane from forest residues) and agricultural based biofuels (wheat-based ethanol and rapeseed biodiesel) were included. For comparison, the ecosystem services linked to the production of crude oil are described.

The CICES classification (Common International Classification of Ecosystem Services) and the Ecosystem Service Cascade Model have been used to place biofuels in the ecosystem services scheme for forest and arable ecosystems. A large number of forest and agricultural ecosystem services linked to biomass production have been mapped, and a range of indicators for the services by the use of CICES has been described. A synoptic comparison to ecosystem services linked to the production of fossil diesel is included.

A general conclusion from the study is that different factors and steps in biofuel production from forest and agricultural feedstock impact ecosystem services in different ways, i.e. the impact could be positive, negative or neutral. As an example, an intensified agricultural production in Sweden may lead to an increased production of biofuels from agricultural crops such as wheat based ethanol and biodiesel from rapeseed. This has positive impact on some ecosystem services such as bioenergy and negative or neutral impact on others such as soil quality and control of pests. The project report offers detailed tables of impacts (benefits, changes, etc) on a number of ecosystem services, listed by class and division.

Including qualitative and semi-quantitative valuation of ecosystem services, as applied in this project, is considered a useful approach to understand the importance of several additional impacts of biofuel production. It therefore represents an important first step towards assuring sustainable biofuel production and making wise and more conscious decisions.

On the project page, an executive summary of the project is available. As two article manuscripts are to be submitted, the full report is only available on request at this stage. This is to avoid interference with the procedure of scientific publication. Contact the project leader Karin Hansen, IVL, for more information.