Procurement of biobased products explained

The potential of biobased products is beginning to be recognised in various sectors. It is still something of a challenge to identify this potential but procurement of biobased products offers many potential benefits, so it is worthwhile to invest in this.

Promising product groups

Biobased variants are becoming available for more and more product groups. Besides fuels (biofuels and gas), that includes the following product groups and products:

  • Office buildings: building materials such as insulation materials, sheet materials, paint, cladding panels, and temporary construction facilities (like tubing and piping)
  • Catering: disposable cups, packaging materials and cutlery
  • Preservation work: coatings and paint
  • Landscaping: geotextiles, shielding (reed mats), binders, plant containers, tree anchoring, disposing of residual materials from landscaping maintenance
  • Hydraulic engineering structures: geotextiles, erosion mats
  • Cleaning: cleaning agent

Benefits of procurement of biobased products

The procurement of biobased products can have many benefits in certain cases, but not all procurement of biobased products therefore requires purchasers to be both knowledgeable and discerning.

  • Although biobased products are often more expensive, their specific properties may result in more favourable life-cycle costs. These benefits are often related to the biodegradability of biobased products. Certain products (geotextiles, biobased piping and tubing) can, for example, simply be left in the ground, cutting disposal costs. Not all biobased products are biodegradable.
  • Biobased products are made from biological raw materials (biomass). New raw materials can be cultivated indefinitely, provided that the land on which these crops are grown is properly maintained. The use of biological raw materials helps to cut the consumption of fossil fuels.
  • Biobased products have (potentially) lower CO2 emissions than products based on fossil fuels. This is not necessarily the case, as biobased process techniques sometimes need to be scaled-up and optimised.
  • Biobased products are often less toxic than fossil products, or completely non-toxic. Such products are less harmful to the environment and to people's health in general, and to the health of workers who have to process these substances.

Determining the sustainability of biobased products

Many different types of biomass are used to produce biobased products. These range from wood to soybean, and from tomato stems to sugar beet. When biofuels first became popular, some questioned whether the process of converting biomass for use in certain biobased applications was indeed sustainable. This is because biomass can be also used for food, animal feed, fibre and functional molecules, to name just a few examples. It was also found that increased demand for biomass entailed adverse changes in land use. Hence the present focus on safeguarding sustainability, to ensure that the biomass used for biobased products is sustainably cultivated, produced and processed.

Ensuring sustainable procurement of biobased products often involves certification. The relevant certification systems for biobased products usually fall into one of three categories:

Certification of relevant properties of biobased products

Certificates for a number of relevant properties of biobased products can be obtained from various certification bodies. These include certificates for:

  • % biobased: the percentage of a product made from renewable raw materials, in accordance with ASTM D6866
    ASTM D6866 at astm.org 
  • Biodegradability: the extent to which a substance is broken down in soil or water, in accordance with EN13432
    NEN-EN 13432:2000 at nen.nl 
  • Compostability: the compostability of the biobased product, in accordance with EN13432
    NEN-EN 13432:2000 at nen.nl 

Certification of biomass for biobased products

There are a range of certification systems for safeguarding sustainability throughout the entire chain. The emphasis here is on the biomass used for biobased products. Different certification systems examine sustainability issues in different links of the chain. These can include greenhouse gas emissions, competition with food and local biomass applications, biodiversity, environmental quality, and impacts on land use, as well as social and economic aspects. Some examples are RED, ISCC and NTA8080.

Certification of biomass

Whereas RED, ISCC and NTA8080 focus specifically on the use of raw materials in biobased products, numerous other certification systems do not identify the application involved. Many of these systems have been developed by "round tables of consortia", such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) and Bonsucro. Such certification often relates to the entire chain involved in a single commodity or a limited number of commodities. As they are actually used in biobased products, these commodities may also be a useful way of demonstrating the sustainability of the biomass used.

Proceed to: Getting started with procurement of biobased products