The University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences performed a series of comprehensive life cycle assessment (LCA) of white pellets and black pellets, documenting the environmental footprint, from cradle to grave, when extracting residual biomass and converting it to biofuel alternatives. Emissions from feedstock extraction and transportation to the manufacturing facility, processing, transportation of the pellets to a shipping port (in Washington or Oregon), as well as ocean transportation to a port in Japan were all included. Local pollution, as well as impacts on air quality, water and soil were also considered. The total LCA of electricity production from residual biomass-based wood pellets in a bioenergy plant in Japan was then compared to that of electricity production from coal.
The research, which can be found at Cintrafor, concluded that pellets produced from residues on average produce 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to coal. With their assessment they noted that biomass burned in a controlled environment, such as a bioenergy facility or coal plant, emits 95% fewer pollutants to the atmosphere as compared to open biomass burns, such as prescribed burns or wildfires. “After factoring in all the particulate matter, emissions of harvesting, processing, local and international transportation, harvest-slash-based pellets reduce hazardous fine particulate matter measuring 2.5 microns or less in width (PM2.5) by 88 %, with most of this clean air benefit going to local communities.” The research further concluded that the marginally higher carbon impact associated with the production of torrefied pellets (biocoal) is mitigated by their energy efficient long-distance transportation.