Frequently Asked Questions
Home About bio-based Frequently Asked Questions



1. What are bio-based products and services?

Bio-based products are made – completely or partially – from biogenic material, which means they are made from renewable resources (also called “biomass”). The most frequently used types of biomass are sugar, starch, plant oils, wood and natural fibres. Partially bio-based products can also contain minerals or petrol.

Today, a wide range of products exists that are used daily in households, which are at least partly made from renewable resources, even though most consumers are not aware that these products are bio-based. This is for example often the case with construction materials, packaging, detergents, cosmetics and textiles. One of the most common type of bio-based products is paper, although bio-based products can also include pens, inks, furniture, and gardening tools, amongst others.

A bio-based service would comprise of the hiring of a service that uses bio-based products. This could be a contractor or a cleaning service that uses bio-based paints or cleaning products, for example.

For more information on what bio-based products are, what they are made from, etc., please check the InnProBio Factsheet #1 “What are bio-based products?”.
2. Why is it called Procurement of INNOVATIVE bio-based products and services?

Until the mid of the 19th century we had an agricultural society. Since then we have been introducing new products from fossil sources, like oil, coal and natural gas. For several reasons we need to move to a new agricultural society: the bio-based economy. But we need to do this much smarter, without exhausting the earth and aim at closing cycles. We need to extract valuable components from biological raw materials, without consequences for the food supply. Agricultural by-products from e.g. sugar beet, potatoes and grass become new sources to make valuable bio-based materials.

These new, innovative materials, will undergo rigorous testing and have to adhere to the same quality and safety regulations as any other product in Europe. But they don’t have a track record of 50-100 years yet, like oil-based alternatives. They don’t have the economies of scale in their production process yet and they often may require conformance testing. On the other hand they may have added value you didn’t know about.

So when innovative bio-based products and services may be interesting to procure, be aware that you need to create room in the procurement process and tender documents, since these products may cost more initially, may need some time to prove themselves and may be better for your health and for the environment. A good contact with the market is recommended to understand what is available, how these new products can fulfil your needs and how to organise your tender to give these alternatives a chance.

The difference between a regular procurement process and a Public Procurement of Innovation procedure lies mainly in the formulation of the requirement and the way you interact with the market. The term public procurement of innovation is used for ‘procurement where contracting authorities act as a launching customer of innovative goods or services which are not yet available on a large-scale commercial basis, and may include conformance testing’[1].

[1] Art.2(18), Horizon 2020 Rules for Participation Regulation No 1290/2013.

3. Why should I promote or prefer bio-based products through public procurement?

If sustainably produced, by choosing bio-based products over conventional alternatives, you can make several positive contributions to your office, your hospital, your community and to our society and environment as a whole.

By buying these products, you can promote innovative solutions and increase their market uptake. Many of these innovative products are not well known – by giving them visibility, your decision can have a positive impact on overall market developments towards more efficient and more sustainable products.

There are many bio-based alternatives that can be relevant for your procurement needs (for more details, see Q.4). There is sufficient market availability and their functionalities are the same or even better than conventional products. Why not give them a chance?

If our society wants to take climate change seriously, we need to reduce the amount of fossil carbon we use in order to not release fossil CO2 into the atmosphere. A study from 2015 (McGlade & Ekins [1]) has shown that we need to leave substantial amounts of fossil resources in the ground if we want to achieve the 2°C climate goal. Sustainably produced bio-based products can contribute to this!

Here are some more benefits that bio-based products can offer you and your community:

  • Reduced negative health effects caused by airborne petrochemical toner particles.
  • The application of natural fibres offers better thermal insulation. Their application e.g. in building construction materials can also help to reduce health problems during installation.
  • Better environmental performance, including a lower CO2 footprint during production and/or use. For example, bio-based car parts are lighter than conventional parts, resulting in lower fuel consumption during car use.
  • Biodegradability in environments where collection and separation of certain waste products for recycling is not viable or practical. This is particularly relevant in catering and outdoor events, along with gardening and landscaping. Biodegradability is also a characteristic of biosurfactants (used in detergents).
  • Lower consumption of detergents, energy, water, etc. and lower tear in the case of bio-based clothes and textiles like Lyocell or Tencel®, resulting in improved longevity and reduced maintenance costs.
  • Reduced total costs of ownership (TCO) i.e. potential lower total costs when considering all costs associated with a product over its lifetime.

[1] McGlade, C., Ekins, P. 2015: The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2°C, in: Nature Vol. 517, 8 January 2015, 187-203.

4. Are there any bio-based products on the market that have any relevance to my procurement needs? Is there sufficient availability of bio-based alternatives?

Probably: Yes. InnProBio has identified a number of important procurement categories in which bio-based products can provide a good alternative to conventionally produced products. The identified categories and corresponding bio-based products are:

  • Construction and infrastructure: construction structure materials such as insulation, sheet, façade panels and other temporary construction materials (pipes and plastics) and (indoor) coatings
  • Gardening and landscaping: geotextiles, erosion mats, shielding, plastic binders, plant containers and tree anchoring
  • Nursery and medical equipment: textiles
  • Cleaning, hygiene and sanitary: cleaning detergents, cleaning of company clothing, domestic services, household waste management
  • Vehicles and mobility: company cars, lubricants
  • ICT, offices supplies and paper: office supplies and toner cartridges
  • Furniture and indoor interiors: office upholstery, especially carpeting, furniture
  • Food, catering and events: disposable cups, packaging materials and utensils

For more information, please see the good practice case studies, the tender text blocks, and the database of bio-based products.

We have also identified a sufficient number of suppliers of bio-based products to ensure you that including the bio-based criterion in the tender does not create any restriction on the market.

5. Do bio-based products provide any benefits to society as a whole?

Bio-based products cover a wide variety of applications and are made from a multitude of different raw materials. Therefore, the benefits provided by them need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis and can vary, depending on the application and the intended use.

However, it is possible to make some general statements about bio-based products and why promoting them can be good for society as a whole. If we change our industry from being petroleum-based towards using more bio-based feedstocks, we reduce Europe’s dependency on fossil fuels imports, making us less vulnerable to abrupt changes on the world market or possible conflicts. By using more domestic biomass for more applications, we create outlets for farmers, thus increasing their income and improving rural development with more added value and jobs. Thinking more long-term, our society will need to find alternative ways to produce its many consumables and materials, since the supply of petroleum if ultimately finite.

Furthermore, bio-based products can make significant contributions to mitigating climate change. The specifics of each product’s impacts can vary, and not all bio-based products perform better in environmental terms, but there is strong evidence which suggests that many products can have a reduced impact on the environment, if biomass is produced sustainably and production processes are environmentally efficient. For more details, see below (Q.7) or the InnProBio Factsheet #2 on Sustainability of Bio-based Products.

Some examples of benefits provided by bio-based products are:

  • Saving up to 30% of the electricity used in laundry by getting clothes cleaned at 30°C using bio-based surfactants and enzymes.
  • Agricultural mulch films that are biodegradable in soil improve agricultural productivity and reduce costs of collecting plastic waste from the field, while at the same time avoiding the uptake of plastic particles in soils.
  • Bio-based lubricants are biodegradable in soil and water and can be used in environmentally sensitive areas.
  • Natural cosmetics like rinse-off cosmetics (toilet soaps, shower preparations, shampoos) are biodegradable in water.
6. What are the benefits of bio-based products for users/consumers compared to traditional products?

Bio-based products cover a wide variety of applications and are made from a multitude of different raw materials. Therefore, the benefits provided by them need to be assessed from case to case and can vary, depending on the application and the intended use. Specific examples can be found in the good practice case studies.

In many cases, bio-based alternatives can offer added functionalities that offer direct or indirect benefits for consumers compared to conventional products. Some examples would be textiles made from natural fibres, especially novel cellulosic fibres, that offer great wearing comfort, or detergents and cosmetics that are skin friendlier and are made with less chemicals. Novel bio-based surfactants show improved functionalities in removing dirt and building materials or geotextiles from natural fibres or wood show superior properties in insulating or stabilising. As mentioned before, all of that needs to be assessed based on the formulation of a specific product and its intended use.

7. Are bio-based products always more sustainable than petroleum-based products?

In certain cases yes, but not always. Their benefits must be assessed on a case-by-case basis and can vary greatly depending on the application and the intended use. Products made from petroleum will at the end of their lifetimes add fossil carbon to the atmosphere, thus contribute to the greenhouse effect and climate change. Bio-based products only add carbon to the atmosphere which the plants took from the atmosphere before, therefore keeping a balance. However, cultivation of biomass can also have strong impacts on the environment. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is one tool to assess the environmental impacts of one product. LCAs are standardised and can help to decide whether a product is really better or not. Another tool are sustainability certification schemes, which ensure that agricultural practices are in line with basic sustainability requirements. This means, for example, not burning rain forest for agricultural land or endangering biodiversity. For more information on LCA and sustainability certifications, please check InnProBio Factsheet #2 on Sustainability of Bio-based Products and Factsheet #5 on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Life Cycle Costing (LCC).

8. How are bio-based products and services linked to the circular economy?

There is no general answer to that question. The circular economy aims at keeping resources in a circle as long as possible, thus contributing to more resource efficiency. The bioeconomy is defined through its feedstock base (which is biomass) and through the processes used for the production of goods, if they use biological organisms or parts thereof (“biotechnology”), thus aiming to shifting the economy’s resource base away from fossil and therefore finite feedstocks. Thus, there is no general connection between the two.

It is sometimes said that the bioeconomy is part of the circular economy, but this is also misleading. There are some overlaps between the two, and both can contribute to each other’s goals, but to sort one under the other is not correct. Here are some examples how bio-based products contribute to the concept and goals of the circular economy:

  • Many bio-based products can go to organic recycling, that is composting or biodegradation (please see InnProBio Factsheet #3 on Biodegradability for more details), which will return the biomass to the soil and can let grow new feedstocks. Many bio-based products are made from side-streams of other production processes, thus increasing the resource efficiency. This is true both for traditional bio-based sectors, such as the pine chemicals industry using tall oil as a by-product of wood pulp production, or for the oleochemicals sector which makes for example paints and coating from animal processing by-products. It is also true for newer biorefinery concepts that aim to utilize the maximum amount of biomass with all its fractions;
  • Many bio-based products are recyclable. Paper and wood products are excellent examples where many European countries have established well-functioning recycling systems of bio-based products. Most bio-based plastics are recyclable as well, but not for all of them there are recycling facilities. However, research has shown very clearly that bio-based plastics do not hinder the recycling streams more than any other material for which there is no recycling facility. Note that in Europe, only the four big bulk plastic streams polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate (PET bottles), polystyrene and PVC get recycled. No other conventional plastic gets recycled, either, so this is not specific to bio-based plastics;
  • Many bio-based products can go to organic recycling, that is composting or biodegradation (please see InnProBio Factsheet #3 on Biodegradability for more details), which will return the biomass to the soil and can let grow new feedstocks.
For more details on this topic, please also take a look at InnProBio Factsheet #4 on Bio-based products and services in the circular economy.
9. How can the bio-based content of a product be measured? Is there a standard and are there certificates to ensure the claims?

The European standardisation committee CEN /TC 411 bio-based products has developed several standards that define bio-based products and how to measure their bio-based content.

The standard EN 16575: 2014 “Bio-based products – Vocabulary” defines what bio-based products are, what biomass is, etcetera. A selection of this vocabulary is freely available here.

The European standard EN 16640: 2017 outlines how to measure the bio-based carbon content, which is possible because carbon from biomass can be differentiated from carbon stemming from petrol, due to the structure of the molecules.

To verify the claims of being bio-based, three certification schemes exist on the European market: bio-based content, OK biobased and DIN-Geprüft Biobased. All measure the bio-based carbon content of a product and express the results in ranges of percentages (e.g. bio-based carbon content is between 50% and 70% of the total carbon content of the product).

For more information on the certification schemes, please see InnProBio Factsheet #2 on Sustainability of Bio-based Products.

10. Is it okay to use food crops for materials or bio-based products?

Yes, it is, under some conditions. Here is why:

Using food crops for anything else than food and feed (e.g. biofuels) is a very controversial topic. During the food crisis in 2008, it was often stated that biofuels contributed to the emergency by creating competition to food and increasing prices. Therefore, it has become more or less consensus that using food crops for anything else than food and feed is not okay, and the focus has shifted more towards feedstocks from the so-called “second generation” which are supposedly not in any competition to food, which is mostly waste and lignocellulosic materials (that is wood and short rotation coppice such as miscanthus, willow, or poplar).

However, in reality, this is more complicated. There is increasing evidence that growing food crops, also for other outlets other than food and feed, offer several advantages. They increase the overall availability of food, offer a diversified income to farmers, are more land efficient than short rotation coppice and so on (see e.g. Kline et al. 2016,[1] or Carus and Dammer 2013 [2]). By now, several studies have convincingly shown that biofuels were not the main driver of the exorbitant food prices in 2008. Since bio-based materials have much lower market shares and feedstock needs than fuels and energy, their impacts is even lower than that.

Therefore, using food crops such as sugar or starch for bio-based materials are acceptable, if overall sustainability is ensured (e.g. through a certificate, see Q.9).

[1] Kline, K. et al. 2016: Reconciling food security and bioenergy: priorities for action, in: GCB Bioenergy 2016, 1-20.

[2] Carus, M., Dammer, L. 2013: nova paper #2: Food or Non-Food: Which Agricultural Feedstocks are Best for Industrial Uses?. Hürth 2013.

11. Are there any drawbacks and/or barriers to purchasing bio-based products and services?

In general, bio-based products that are on the market have undergone rigorous testing and have to adhere to the same quality and safety regulations as any other product in Europe. So in these terms, there should be no barrier to buying bio-based products. If you are unsure and would like to receive more information, please follow InnProBio and the market dialogues and trainings InnProBio provides.

From a public perspective, there might be questions related to sustainability or the competition to food, which we tried to address in the questions above. Using certificates and labels is a great possibility to show that the product chosen has positive impacts.

Of course, price is another very important factor. Often, bio-based products are more expensive than conventional products which are comparable in function. This is because production costs are higher, which is due to the relatively new developed processes, higher feedstock costs and small volumes being produced. However, the impact on the procurement is often lower than perceived, since the increased longevity or reduced needs for maintenance can significantly lower the total cost of ownership, and also because often only small volumes of bio-based products are procured.

Frequently Asked Questions