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Sustainability Transition Assessment and Research of Bio-based Products

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - STAR-ProBio (Sustainability Transition Assessment and Research of Bio-based Products)

Reporting period: 2018-11-01 to 2020-04-30

Europe is confronted with depletion of natural resources due to their unsustainable use, increased global competitiveness, increasing population and other environmental and economic challenges. Promoting the sustainable growth of dynamic bioeconomy sectors will contribute to an innovative, resource efficient and competitive Europe in transition from a fossil fuel-based society to a bio-based one. Bio-based products represent a great opportunity to reconcile sustainable long-term growth with environmental protection, a priority of the European Growth Strategy, through the prudent and responsible use of renewable resources for agriculture and industry. Managing those resources and their derived products in a sustainable manner implies major challenges. The development and use of sustainability assessment schemes for bio-based products is expected to contribute to a clear and evidence-based view of the economic, social and environmental impact/benefits of bio-based solutions.
The overall goal of the project was to formulate guidelines for a common framework promoting the development of regulations and standards that support the adoption of business innovation models and market uptake in the bio-based products sector.
This objective was achieved by performing a comprehensive assessment, which looked at the three pillars of sustainability (economic, environmental and social) in a cradle-to-cradle fashion. Proposed methodologies, criteria and indicators have been applied to selected case studies to illustrate benefits and impacts of bio-based products.
At the end of the three-year research, the following key results have been achieved: (1) the development of tools for assessing sustainability; (2) the development of a policy assessment tool for scenario analysis; and (3) an in-depth market assessment aimed at identifying leverage points for prompting the market uptake of bio-based products.
WP1 ended in M9, with key outputs including: (i) the identification of sustainability assessment gaps and the formulation of recommendations to overcome such gaps based on analyses of current standards and sustainability assessment schemes; (ii) the identification and selection of feasible value chains and case studies for evaluating the sustainability assessment scheme developed in WP8.
WP2 and WP3 developed relevant principles, criteria and indicators which were exploited in WP8 contributing to the definition of a sustainability assessment tool. Moreover, WP3 developed hybridized indicators by combining resource efficiency principles with that of green chemistry, highlighting the circularity characteristics embedded by the economic operators within product and process designs. Also, WP2 and WP3 have closely worked together to assure the harmonized environmental assessment of the case studies, in terms of functional unit, system boundaries, allocation methods, environmental indicators. Thereafter, corn glucose, corn stover and sugar beet pulp were selected as feedstock for further investigation of the defined case studies. The life cycle inventory phase of the selected feedstocks was duly completed and this allowed the development of an appropriate inventory table used to carry out the life cycle impact assessment.
WP4 focused on the development of the techno-economic sustainability assessment methodology for the production of bio-based products including relevant principles, criteria and indicators which were exploited in WP8 contributing to the definition of a sustainability assessment tool. Moreover, a detailed inventory of alternative end-of-life options for bio-based and conventional products was developed. The scope of the techno-economic sustainability analysis of the end-of-life routes for the production of bio-based chemicals, added-value products and polymers was also defined.
WP5 worked on facilitating the market uptake of sustainable bio-based products by providing in-depth information on the sustainability preferences and expectations of all relevant value chain players. Important outputs of WP5 are the completion of the three rounds of the Delphi survey and the conduction of a field experiment to elicit consumers’ willingness to pay for bio-based products carrying an eco-label. Findings obtained in this WP provide valuable inputs which can be used by the EU policy maker to prompt the market uptake of bio-based products.
WP6 performed an extensive review of social sustainability with a specific focus on bio-based economy. This was then used to develop a social impact framework tailored to bio-based products and identify relevant principles, criteria and indicators which were exploited in WP8 contributing to the definition of a sustainability assessment tool.
WP7 developed a causal-descriptive model based on a system dynamics methodology to show that bio-based products run the risk of accelerating land use change with negative effects on the environment. The developed model led to the definition of an ILUC indicator which was exploited in WP8 contributing to the definition of a sustainability assessment tool.
WP8 performed SWOT and PESTEL analyses of the existing sustainability schemes gaps identified in WP1. Moreover: (i) concepts for communication of LCIA results were analyzed; (ii) an approach to benchmarking was elaborated; and (iii) potentiality of thresholds was assessed. Subsequently, building on findings obtained in WPs 2 to 7, WP8 developed the SAT-ProBio framework, composed of the Integrated Assessment Tool and the Sustainability Certification Tools. Also, with the support of NEN, a standard-like document was developed based on the Integrated Assessment Tool.
WP9 focused on the analysis of regulations, (eco)labelling and policy initiatives, showing the existence of promising links between the STAR-ProBio products and the current bioeconomy framework. The analysis of these links provided guidance for the development of the SyD-ProBio model, to be used by the EU policy maker to compare alternative policy scenario. In addition, WP9 focused on the development of recommendations for standards and criteria for eco-labels for bio-based products. STAR-ProBio findings and outputs have been disseminated throughout the entire lifetime of the project in 76 conferences and 23 workshops. Also, 26 papers in peer-reviewed journals, 8 book chapters and 1 book have been published by STAR-ProBio partners.
At the end of the project, the following results (progress beyond the state of the art) were achieved:
(1) The SAT-ProBio framework, integrating a refined set of LCA and the hybridized indicators (which create linkages between principles of circular economy and LCA), constitutes a framework that enables an efficient impact-led evaluation.
(2) The SyD-ProBio model, a system dynamic model for policy analysis.
(3) A bio-based markets assessment aimed at identifying measures for the market uptake of bio-based products and the relevance of sustainability certification.
Results in these areas allow assessing: social and economic dimensions of sustainability, along with the environmental one; social and economic impact of alternative policy measures; societal aspects (consumers’ behaviour, social acceptance, etc.) related to the market penetration of bio-based products.
IAT quantitative and qualitative results for all the indicators and final score
SAT-ProBio framework for sustainability assessment and certification of bio-based products
SyD-ProBio user-friendly interface for policy scenario comparison
The three pillars of sustainability: tools and methods used in STAR-ProBio