Energy from Solid Fossil Fuels: Changes in Life Cycle Inventory Models for the Electricity Generation from Hard Coal and Lignite

Main Presenter:    René Itten 

Co-Authors:   Christopher Oberschelp     Hanna Kröhnert                                          

The power sector, and especially coal power generation, is of high importance for Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) studies due to its high contributions across a wide range of environmental impact categories. Up to this update, the underlying Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) data of the supply chain for electricity generation from solid fossil fuels in the UVEK and ecoinvent databases are largely based on raw data from the year 2007 and older. Since then, environmental regulation in most countries has become substantially more strict and novel technologies have been introduced to abate emissions, while technological advances have improved on the efficiencies of the coal power generation.
We performed a comprehensive update of the LCI models for the complete solid fossil fuel supply chain that includes the actualisation of a total of 87 LCI datasets, and the introduction of 35 new heat generation datasets. The update of the solid fossil fuel supply chain focuses on coal mining, hard coal supply mixes, solid fossil fuel combustion in power plants and electricity generation.
Most relevant parameters in supply chain for electricity generation from solid fossil fuels are the combustion process, the conversion efficiencies in the power plants and coal mining. The detailed contribution analysis for electricity from hard coal generated in Germany revealed, that most important contributor for greenhouse gas emissions with more than 84 % are the direct emissions from combustion of hard coal, followed by the coal mining with 15 %. The flue gas treatment and power plant infrastructure only have a minor contribution to the total greenhouse gas emissions of 0.5 and 0.2 %, respectively.
The update of the LCI models for the solid fossil fuel supply chain in general leads to lower environmental impact assessment results caused by the electricity generation from solid fossil fuels mainly due to (1) the update of the power plant efficiencies, (2) the update of the emission profiles of the solid fossil fuel combustion datasets (3) the update of the methane emissions from the coal mining processes and (4) the update of the hard coal supply mixes (sorted in descending order according to importance).
In general, the update leads to a harmonisation of inventory models, and differences in the impact assessment results from different electricity generation datasets were reduced. However, with greenhouse gas emissions of 0.861 kg CO2-eq. – 1.35 kg CO2-eq. per kWh electricity from hard coal, lignite and peat, the power generation from solid fossil fuels remains among the technologies with the highest contribution to the global climate crisis.

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