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We need a fairer method to account for the footprint of biogenic carbon and allocate it to the actors along the bioeconomy value chains.
Editorial office / Brussels

This is what six stakeholders groups in the chemical, plastics and industrial biotechnology sectors in Europe have stated in a joint position paper on the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF), a calculation method for the sustainability of biobased chemicals and materials.

Bio-based products are products wholly or partly derived from renewable materials of biological origin (i.e. from plants, crops, trees, algae and biological waste). These products are used in a wide range of applications, such as energy, textile, plastics, pharmaceuticals, hygiene, food and many more.

No benefits

Biobased products can sequester biogenic carbon for a considerable time. However, in the currently proposed methodology of the Product Environmental Footprint rules addressing biogenic carbon, there is no recognized benefit granted to the producers of biomass-derived products, compared to fossil ones.

In a cradle-to-grave approach, the biogenic uptake and emissions of CO2 from disposal are balanced. Therefore, in such a cradle-to-grave approach, biomass derived products will not receive any CO2 burden when they are disposed of, while fossil products will receive a CO2 burden in case of incineration.

However, in a cradle-to-gate life-cycle analysis using PEF methodology, biomass-derived products will not receive any credit for the fact that CO2 was removed from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and plant growth. Whereas in LCA (ISO 14067, EN 15804 and other LCA standards1) biogenic CO2 uptake in biomass-derived products shall be addressed.

When the use of the product cannot be singled out – like platform chemicals which are used for a range of different other products or intermediates -, the manufacturers need to supply a cradle-to-gate LCA. Accordingly, there will be no CO2 credit for bio-based raw materials calculated at the gate of the product. It will look like there is hardly any benefit from producing biomass-derived products if any at all, compared to fossil based.

The same “accounting” problem appears when biomass feedstock is blended with fossil feedstock, like in mass balance scenarios. There will hardly be any difference in greenhouse gas footprints as long as a cradle-to-gate assessment is used for life-cycle inventories and for full LCA where other forms of end-of life approaches than incineration are applied. Additionally with the current approach, the use of the products in long-lasting applications, investment goods and others are not considered as an actual removal of biogenic CO2.

This has to change, acording to the stakeholders groups. Read the full position paper on the EuropaBio website.

Image: Marchu Studio/Shutterstock

The position paper was signed by the European Oleochemicals and Allied Products Group (APAG, a sector group of Cefic), Biochem Europe (another sector group of Cefic, European Bioplastics, the European Association of Sugar Manufacturers (CEFS), the European Association for Bioindustries (EuropaBio) and FEDIOL, the EU vegetable oil and protein meal industry association.