A sustainability assessment of bioenergy systems needs to include the whole production cycle including biomass production and transportation, processing and conversion, usage and disposal. This approach is also referred to as the materials economy or the product life-cycle (cradle-to-grave). The importance of a life cycle approach is clearly explained in the “Story of Stuff”…
For example, the Biofuels life-cycle is simplified below:
Technology assessment uses a structured balance sheet to assess various bioenergy interventions, using the set of sustainability indicators (defined by the Sustainability Framework) as the metric.
The Technology Balance Sheet (TBS) is an established assessment method to reveal the inter-relationships and inter-dependence between the factors of technologies, processes, products, and markets. The TBS indicates the forces at work within the techno-economic system; defined as a push or a pull. The market demand can be considered a pull, while the technology R&D considered a push. The issue of sustainability can be introduced in the TBS by making use of the sustainability indicators that are used for the assessment in the spheres of technology, environment, society and economy and governance.
The first step in the STBS process is to investigate the bioenergy project life cycle so that a generic project value chain can be formulated. The sustainability criteria are used as a metric to asses different options by scoring the bioenergy product requirements against these criteria- in this way different technology and process options can be rapidly compared to determine the viable bioenergy interventions. An example STBS application is shown below (see the Energy from Invasive Alien Plants case study for details). The STBS is a sustainability assessment matrix for assessing technology options. It simplifies all the data inputs and assesses the technology options using relevant sustainability criteria by all the stakeholders involved. The assessment is scored from 5 as the most sustainable ( green), to 1 as the least sustainable rank (red) and the total is used to indicate of the success of a given technology scenario in achieving the projects development goals. The STBS enables a large amount of information to be captured while facilitating the interpretation of this data for the decision-maker.