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Environ Sci Technol. 2007 Feb 15;41(4):1457-64.

Life cycle of the corn-soybean agroecosystem for biobased production.

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Institute for Environmental Science and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60612, USA.


Biobased product life cycle assessments (LCAs) have focused largely on energy (fossil fuel) usage and greenhouse gas emissions during the agriculture and production stages. This paper compiles a more comprehensive life cycle inventory (LCI) for use in future bioproduct LCAs that rely on corn or soybean crops as feedstocks. The inventory includes energy, C, N, P, major pesticides, and U.S. EPA criteria air pollutants that result from processes such as fertilizer production, energy production, and on-farm chemical and equipment use. Agroecosystem material flows were modeled using a combination of GREET (the Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation model), a linear fractionation model that describes P biogeochemical cycling, and Monte Carlo Analysis. Results show that the dominant air emissions resulted from crop farming, fertilizers, and on-farm nitrogen flows (e.g., N20 and NO). Seed production and irrigation provided no more than 0.002% to any of the inventory emissions or energy flows and may be neglected in future LCAs of corn or soybeans as feedstocks from the U.S. Corn Belt. Lime contributes significantly (17% of total emissions) to air emissions and should not be neglected in bioproduct LCAs.

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