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Life cycle assessment of biochar versus metal catalysts used in syngas cleaning

Frazier, R. Scott
Jin, Enze
Kumar, Ajay
Biomass gasification has the potential to produce renewable fuels, chemicals and power at large utility scale facilities. In these plants catalysts would likely be used to reform and clean the generated biomass syngas. Traditional catalysts are made from transition metals, while catalysts made from biochar are being studied. A life cycle assessment (LCA) study was performed to analyze the sustainability, via impact assessments, of producing a metal catalyst versus a dedicated biochar catalyst. The LCA results indicate that biochar has a 93% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and requires 95.7% less energy than the metal catalyst to produce. The study also estimated that biochar production would also have fewer impacts on human health (e.g., carcinogens and respiratory impacts) than the production of a metal catalyst. The possible disadvantage of biochar production in the ecosystem quality is due mostly to its impacts on agricultural land occupation. Sensitivity analysis was carried out to assess environmental impacts of variability in the two production systems. In the metal catalyst manufacture, the extraction and production of nickel (Ni) had significant negative effects on the environmental impacts. For biochar production, low moisture content (MC, 9%) and high yield type (8 tons/acre) switchgrass appeared more sustainable.