The OPTIMA project (Optimization of Perennial Grasses for Biomass Production) has received funding from the European Union’s FP7 programme and was finalised in September 2015 after a project duration of four years. The project, coordinated by the University of Catania, focused on the Mediterranean region where marginal lands are usually characterised by poor water availability. For this reason, drought resistant perennial crops were selected for investigation and optimisation within OPTIMA, including Miscanthus, Giant Reed (Arundo), Switchgrass and Cardoon. A broad range of potential products were investigated, including heat and power but also biofuels and bio-based products (e.g. chemicals).
Within the OPTIMA project, ifeu led the work on the sustainability assessment, being responsible for the screening life cycle assessment (LCA) and integrated sustainability assessment. For the latter, we joined the individual results on other aspects of sustainability including socio-economic and technical issues covered by consortium partners into an overall picture.
All analyses were based on life cycle comparisons, i.e. the entire life cycle of the bioenergy and bio-based products were compared to equivalent conventional products (mostly petroleum-based). The LCA results revealed that despite tough growing conditions, cultivation and use of all investigated crops can achieve greenhouse gas and non-renewable energy savings if used for stationary heat and/or power generation. Negative environmental impacts are less pronounced. For the defined system settings, Miscanthus was identified as the best performing crop. However, several boundary conditions have to be met: For instance, it must be ensured that only truly unused land is used in order to avoid indirect land use changes.
Based on methodology developed by ifeu (Keller et al. 2015), the integrated sustainability assessment identified front runner scenarios that perform best when results of technological, global/regional as well as local environmental, socio-economic, cost-related and SWOT analyses are taken into account. These front runner scenarios are Miscanthus or Giant Reed used in a small or large CHP with each combination performing best concerning specific sustainability indicators, e.g. job creation, the return on investment or greenhouse gas savings. However, trade-offs between the respective aspects of sustainability have to be considered when specific scenarios are supported or implemented.
In cooperation with Università degli studi di Catania (IT), Università di Bologna (IT), Centre for Renewable energy sources and saving (GR), Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia da Universidade Nova de Lisboa (PT), Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (ES), Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine (UK), Agricultural University of Athens (GR), Consiglio nazionale delle ricerche (IT), Universitat de les Illes Balears (ES), Universitat de Barcelona (E) Aberystwyth University (UK), University College Dublin, National University of Ireland, Dublin (IR), Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IN), Huazong Agricultural University (CN), Consiglio per la Ricerca e Sperimentazione in Agricoltura (IT), Instituto de Agrobiotecnologia Rosario S.A. (AR), B.T.G. Biomass technology group BV (NL), Spapperi S.R.L. (IT), Primus Ltd. (HU), Tuzetka (BE).