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Paving a clear path for the European bioeconomy with standards

Posted on 12/03/2016

What is the bioeconomy?

A lack of clear standardisation and traceable and consistent labelling of bio-based products had been seen as a barrier to commercialisation.

The bioeconomy refers to all economic activity that starts with the production of renewable biological resources and their conversion into food, feed, bio-based products and bioenergy. The bioeconomy interconnects supply chains in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food, pulp and paper, as well as parts of the chemical, biotechnological and energy industries. The bioeconomy is based on the principles of biorefineries that use biomass, by- and co-products and waste instead of fossil resources as their raw material. In the bioeconomy, land use and food security are optimized through a sustainable, resource-efficient and largely waste-free utilisation of Europe’s renewable raw materials, so contributing to a circular economy.

The bioeconomy can contribute towards the conversion of fossil-based European industries to low carbon, resource efficient and sustainable ones. Estimates conclude that a shift to biological raw materials and biological processing methods could save up to 2.5 billion tons of CO2 equivalent per year by 2030, increasing markets for bio-based raw materials and new consumer products several-fold (https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/area/bio-based-industries). In the UK, bioeconomic activity is currently estimated to be worth £36 billion direct contribution and £150 billion GVA (http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/documents/1510-bioeconomy-facts-and-figures).

Bio-based materials are those derived from biomass, which can have undergone physical, chemical or biological treatment(s). A bio-based product is a product wholly or partly derived from biomass, and can be an intermediate, material, semi-finished or final product. A bio-based product is characterised by its bio-based carbon content or bio-based content. Currently, bio-based materials are typically produced in small scale or individual facilities, prior to widespread adoption and process optimisation enabling larger scale manufacturing.

The role of standards in developing the market for bio-based products

The European Commission’s Lead Market Initiative identified bio-based products as one of the priority areas in which to focus investments and innovation. The lack of relevant standards within the area of bio-based products had been seen as a barrier to further adoption. Without clear standardization and traceable and consistent labelling, the acceptance and commercialization of bio-based products could be difficult. Standards are setting out a clear framework for a European priority area, whilst importantly not inhibiting innovation within the area.

A standard is an agreed, repeatable way of doing something, which is published as a document that contains a technical specification or other precise criteria designed to be used consistently as a rule, guideline, or definition. Standards can help increase market transparency by providing common reference methods and requirements that enable the verification of claims about the bio-based content, bio-degradability or environmental sustainability of different products. This can in turn result in an increased uptake of bio-based products, as confidence increases in the use of bio-based materials.

Standards are voluntary and can be verified within organizations either by self-declaration or independent verification. Standards are not regulatory or imposed by government but can be used to help support legislation or regulation.

The work of the European Standardisation Committee (CEN)

Having identified a lack of European standards for bio-based products, the European Commission issued several standardisation mandates to the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN):

M/430 on bio-polymers and bio-lubricants
M/491 on bio-solvents and bio-surfactants
M/492 for the development of horizontal standards for bio-based products
CEN is developing voluntary European Standards through a process of collaboration among experts and representatives from business and industry, research bodies, public authorities and agencies, consumer and environmental groups, and other interested stakeholders (http://www.cen.eu/news/brochures/brochures/CEN_Bio-based-products_2014.pdf).

The following Technical Committees are developing standards in the area of bio-based products:

CEN/TC 19 Gaseous and liquid fuels, lubricants and related products of petroleum, synthetic and biological origin
CEN/TC 249 Plastics
CEN/TC 276 Surface active agents
CEN/TC 411 Bio-based products
The horizontal standards developed under CEN TC411 do not in themselves provide any particular specifications for bio-based products, rather a consistent framework on which future policies, government initiatives, specifications and product category rules may be developed. It should be noted that these standards do not include in their scope food, feed or energy.

There are five Working Groups within the CEN/TC 411 developing standards related to different aspects of bio-based products:

CEN/TC 411/WG 1 Terminology
CEN/TC 411/WG 2 Bio-solvents
CEN/TC 411/WG 3 Bio-based content
CEN/TC 411/WG 4 Sustainability criteria, life cycle analysis and related issues
CEN/TC 411/WG 5 Certification and declaration tools
Four horizontal standards developed by TC411 have been already published. A list of available CEN standards (horizontal, and specific to certain groups of bio-based products) in the area of bio-based products can be found on CENELC website.The work programme of the TC 411 could be seen at the CEN website.

The next two horizontal standards are to be published within the next six-seven months, while the others are still under development. The completion of the whole Work Programme of TC/411 can be anticipated to be within the next one or two years.

Role of KTN

Dr Liliya Serazetdinova, Knowledge Transfer Manager at KTN, is an active member of MI/2 committee on Bio-based products at the British Standards Institute (BSI). She is involved in national matters related to the development and promotion of standards for bio-based products, and acted as a technical author of the BSI standard “PAS 600:2013 – Bio-based products. Guide to standards and claims”. Liliya is also involved in the development of horizontal standards for bio-based products under the work programme of the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN), and acts as a technical expert on the CEN/TC 411/WG 5, developing certification and declaration tools for bio-based products.

KTN is undertaking an internal exercise to build a collection of stories and messages about the bioeconomy. The majority of sectors, if not all, of the UK economy have the potential to contribute to and/or benefit from bioeconomic activity, and this is of growing interest to BIS. This exercise will help KTN communicate the value and opportunities of the bioeconomy to policy makers and other stakeholders.

What would it mean for UK businesses?
The work programme of the TC 411 will be completed within the next one or two years. This means there will be a set of horizontal and product-specific standards that UK businesses can use in order to communicate and verify the claims associated with the benefits and uses of bio-based products.

Industry or trade associations can help individual businesses identify the most relevant standards. Industry peers have knowledge on essential requirements or recommended standards in a specific sector, for a specific product, processes, or technology. In the UK, the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association supports companies that develop, sell, and use bio-based products. You can also get in touch with a trade association related to a specific group of products – e.g. lubricants, adhesives, coatings, sealants, paints, packaging.

Once a company has found a standard that will help them to address their needs, they can either self-declare or use third party verification. Testing for compliance can be done as part of self-declaration or third party declaration. Third-party certifiable standards can provide businesses with independent verification of meeting or exceeding them. Testing and measurement services can be provided by organisations accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS). Several testing houses provide conformity testing for bio-based products in the EU and USA. To find an accredited testing house, it is recommended to look for organisations that are accredited in the UK as testing and calibration laboratories that conform to the standard BS EN ISO/IEC 17025. Professional bodies, trade associations and intermediaries, including knowledge exchange and business support organisation, can help businesses to find appropriate testing and verification organisations.

You can find support in identifying the right standards on the BSI website. You can also see which standards will soon become available for your industry sector by visiting BSI’s Standards Development Portal where you can search by keyword for standards in development, published standards and relevant BSI committees. If you know which standard you need you can purchase a copy from the BSI Shop.

You can find out more about standards and how they can help your business justify claims in the standard “PAS 600:2013 – Bio-based products. Guide to standards and claims”, which can be downloaded for free from the BSI shop. Alternatively, you can speak to Liliya Serazetdinova at KTN, who authored PAS 600:2015, to find out more about the standards and the way you can use them.

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