New version of Argonne lifecycle model for water footprint of biofuels now includes cellulosic feedstocks
Argonne National Laboratory released the newest version (3.0) of the online tool Water Assessment for Transportation Energy Resources (WATER) this week. This latest version of WATER allows, for the first time, biofuels manufacturers to analyze water consumption associated with use of cellulosic feedstocks such as residue left from lumber production and other wood-based resources. The new tool also provides analysis down to the county level in the US for the first time.
WATER adopts a water footprint methodology, and contains extensive climate, land use, water resource, and process water data. Version 3.0 of WATER thus can help biofuels developers gain a detailed understanding of water consumption of various types of feedstocks, aiding development of sustainable fuels that will reduce impact on limited water resources.
While carbon-centered greenhouse gas lifecycle analysis focuses on average carbon use in the carbon cycle for a production pathway (carbon footprint), the water footprint analysis uses the hydrological cycle, focusing on both water use and sufficiency for a production pathway. Carbon footprinting follows elemental carbon mass; water footprinting tracers water molecules by types of water (blue and gren) and addresses water quality change (grey water).
Forest wood resources are some of the highest potential non-food biofuel feedstocks in terms of availability. That availability has started to attract global attention to these types of cellulosic resources for biofuels.—May Wu, Water Analysis Team lead and principal environmental system analyst at Argonne
WATER was launched in 2013 to provide an in-depth analysis of water consumption used in the development of biofuel production, from cultivation to the conversion of the feedstock into fuel. By analyzing the amount of water used in the process, the tool allows industry to make informed decisions about what types of feedstock are most appropriate for use in water-limited areas.
The tool can assist stakeholders and developers as they consider water sustainability in proposed projects. It also can help state and local governments estimating possible water consumption and its impact on water quality.
As industry seeks to address the future need for new fuel sources, it is important to consider all the resources that go into that process. Water scarcity is a serious issue in many parts of the world and it should be considered when developing new types of fuel.—May Wu
Version 3.0 analyzes the impacts of producing hydrocarbon fuel from wood resources on water supplies in the United States. An open-access online model, WATER creates a measurement of how much water is required to generate a gallon of fuel using multiple variables, including pathway comparison, scenario development and region-specific feedstock and biorefinery analysis.
The tool analyzes multiple biofuel pathways, including corn grain ethanol; soybean biodiesel; and agricultural residue-based ethanol produced from corn stover and wheat straw, as well as perennial grass-based ethanol produced from switchgrass and Miscanthus and hydrocarbon fuel produced from hard wood, soft wood and short-rotating woody crops.
It includes the conversion process; specific parameters address fermentation, pyrolysis, gasification and transesterification, among other processes.
The tool will allow producers to understand the water-energy-food nexus, enabling them to find ways to create biofuels that do not use food sources. For example, using forest wood waste generated from lumber production would allow the creation of cellulosic biofuels without consuming food stocks.
Supported by Department of Energy’s EERE Bioenergy Technologies Office, WATER is developed by Argonne National Laboratory.