The forest-based bioeconomy can mitigate climate change by increasing carbon stocks (‘net sink’) in forest land and long-lived wood products and using wood as a substitute for other materials or fossil fuels (1). This policy brief focuses on biomaterials that are under active development and have a larger mitigation potential than is widely understood.
New biomaterials, including bioplastics, wood-based textiles and carbon fibres, have major potential due to their lower carbon footprint and biodegradability compared with petrochemical products. Wood-based construction materials like Cross-Laminated Timber provide alternatives to concrete as they can be used as load-bearing components for building frames. Bio-based composite materials are already used in wind turbine towers; lignin-based anode materials to replace non-renewable synthetic graphite are at the start of the commercialisation process; and it has been estimated that up to 60% of automobile parts could be replaced by bio-based carbon fibre-reinforced polymers, (CFRP) offering enormous weight-saving potential (2). Increased use of wood-based construction materials would provide long-term carbon storage when supplemented with reforestation activities.
To enable smart substitution, a standardised EU-wide scheme to measure the carbon footprints of different product categories and an incentivised policy framework are needed. The transition of global demand towards circular bioeconomy and low-carbon products will also highlight the need for action.
Biomaterials are under rapid development and have great potential
The potential of bio-based materials is currently underutilised at the EU level. New innovative bio-based products could enable the replacement of many fossil-based alternatives, like plastics, construction materials and textiles, thus helping to reduce emissions in these sectors. Bio-based products also provide other benefits, including reducing harmful microplastics from packaging materials, textiles and other plastic products, as well as decreasing pressure on local water cycles caused by cotton farming.
New bio-based products also provide opportunities to create new sustainable industries within the EU, thus improving the well-being of EU citizens. A good example of a potential sustainable industrial subsector is the production of bio-based anode materials for batteries. During the coming decades, electrification of the transport sector will increase the need for batteries and anode materials considerably. However, Europe is dependent on imports of these critical raw materials, including graphite for anodes. By facilitating production of bio-based anode materials, the EU could support a low carbon transition in the transport sector and strengthen the development of a strategically important industrial subsector.
Another example is Cross-Laminated Timber as a construction material. It can replace concrete in many load-bearing constructions and thus reduce the carbon footprint of the sector. CLT also provides long-term carbon storages when used as part of long-lived structures.
A third example is wood-based textile fibres and textiles. Wood-based textile fibres provide an alternative for synthetic, fossil-based and cotton-based textile fibres. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, wood-based fibres would decrease pressure on water cycles due to cotton farming and the use of microplastics in synthetic textile fibres. Spinnova and IonCell are good examples of this.
More examples of innovative bio-based products that can be substituted for fossil materials are presented in Annex 1 of this brief.
As proposed by JRC (1), the forest-based bioeconomy can mitigate climate change by increasing carbon stocks in forest land and long-lived wood products and using wood to substitute other materials or fossil fuels. The potential of carbon stocks in forest land and the traditional use of harvested wood products for construction and biofuels are quite well known, but with regard to new biomaterials, CLC believes that more action is needed to understand their full potential and speed up development (3). When assessing potential, the net effect of the permanence of carbon storages in materials and decreased short-term carbon sinks should be accounted for.
CLC proposals for the EU:
- Create a synthesis report of the short-, medium- and long-term development of biomaterials and their climate mitigation potential based on current and future bioresources in the EU and globally.
- Create a framework based on carbon footprints (4) to incentivise substitution of fossil-based materials by bio-based, recyclable and marine biodegradable materials
- Incentivise structures to support scale up of bio-based technology and early commercialisation of biomaterials, e.g. by implementing demand-based policies for public sector purchasers of materials, using minimum quotas of biomaterials
- Create a biomaterials database and bioeconomy innovation hub to stimulate the use of biomaterials and investments.
- Brief on the role of the forest-based bioeconomy in mitigating climate change through carbon storage and material substitution. Grassi Giacomo; Fiorese Giulia; Pilli Roberto; Jonsson Klas; Blujdea Viorel; Korosuo Anu; Vizarri Matteo, European Commission, 2021.
- Lignin – an alternative precursor for sustainable and cost-effective automotive carbon fibre Henrik Mainka, Olaf Täger, Enrico Körner Liane Hilfert, Sabine Busse, Frank T. Edelmann, Axel S. Herrmann
- The EU needs a holistic strategy for land use and the bioeconomy. CLC Policy Brief, 2021.
- A proposal for carbon footprint development for products and materials. CLC Policy Brief, 2021.
ANNEX I: Examples of innovative bioproducts
Construction and households
- Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT), the most typical uses of are as load-bearing parts for building frames, such as walls, floors and roofs replacing e.g., concrete constructions. The boards are also used in facade cladding and interior lining. Several developers, for example Stora Enso.
- NeoLigno®, a natural binder which is bio-based and safe – free from harmful compounds like formaldehyde and isocyanate. Can be used in insulation applications and particle boards. Developer Stora Enso.
- Lineo®, a natural binder component that replaces fossil-based phenols in plywood. Developer Stora Enso.
- Cellulose foam for sound and construction insulation. Developer Stora Enso.
- Bio-based carbon fibres from pulp and lignin. Carbon fibres are used in for example in the construction industry. Developers for example Stora Enso and Cordenca. A pilot plant for the project will be completed in Germany during 2021.
- Wood-based composite materials. UPM Biocomposites and Finnish company Mysoda have developed a household appliance almost completely based on renewable raw materials. The bio-based sparkling-water maker arrived on the market in October 2020 in Finland and several other European countries. Household-appliances-made-of-wood-based-composite-material
- Biocomposite material for 3D printing. UPM Formi biocomposite has high-performance qualities with lower carbon footprint than fossil-based materials. The biocomposite combines the mouldability of plastics with the strength and sustainability of wood. Compared with traditional oil-based plastic, it reduces a product’s carbon emissions by up to 50%. Developer UPM.
- Lignin in asphalt. Stora Enso and the Swedish road and infrastructure operator Svevia are testing lignin in asphalt on Swedish roads. Lignin is used as the binding agent and can replace up to half the oil-based bitumen in asphalt.
- Nanocellulose – an effective tool to clean up the process waters of mining industries. Nanocellulose made from trees effectively sequesters metal and sulfate ions. These occur in process waters of metal mining and are difficult to remove by other means. Developer Helsinki University and UPM.
- Paptic® is new bio-based, recyclable, reusable, biodegradable next-generation packaging material made of renewable raw materials. All Paptic materials are environmentally friendly and safe to use in everyday operations. Paptic is committed to reducing its environmental footprint through an active and responsible approach to the design and manufacture of sustainable products and the operation of its facilities.
Energy, mining and transport sectors
- Bio-based carbon fibres. Carbon fibres are used in, for example, the car industry, and wind power towers and blades to reduce their weight, and when produced from biomaterials, the production-based emissions are also lower. The wind power industry uses 20% of the global production of carbon fibres. These could be substituted with bio-based carbon fibres. Developers, e.g.. Stora Enso and Cordenka. A pilot plant for the project will be completed in Germany during 2021.
- Laminated veneer lumber (LVL) used in the wind plant towers to replace steel. Carbon emissions of the entire production chain can be reduced by 80% throughout since energy-intensive steel would no longer be needed. Developer VESTAS and Swedish Modvion.
- Lignin based anode materials for batteries are replacing synthetic graphite, for example to provide renewable alternatives for the automotive industry. Developer Stora Enso.
- Biochars to replace rare metals in solar cells. The natural properties of lignocellulosic building blocks can provide groundbreaking possibilities in completely new areas within electronics. Lignocellulose-based materials offer new solutions for electronic applications related to harvesting, converting and storing energy. This is studied in the FinnCERES research program
- Several different biobased packaging solutions replacing plastics and aluminium in packaging.
- Micro fibrillated cellulose (MFC) for food packaging, liquid packaging, take-away packaging, barrier films, among others.
- Cellulose foam for protective packaging, general packaging, thermal packaging, sound and construction insulation or even hydroponics.
- Developer Stora Enso
- Woodly® is an entirely new type of plastic based on softwood cellulose that mimics the best qualities of traditional fossil-based plastics. Woodly material is plastic, just not the kind we are used to. Developer Woodly, Woodly-plastic-from-wood.
- Sulapac® products are made of a combination of wood chips and biodegradable natural binders. The material has plastic-like properties. It is water- and oil resistant and does not penetrate oxygen. Sulapac® products have unlimited design possibilities. Sulapac® is also able to compete with the cost of plastic and can be mass-produced with the same equipment as plastic.
- Spinnova is developing a pulp-based textile fibre. The company’s technology saves water, energy and chemicals. The technology makes it possible to manufacture textile fibres in a significantly more ecological way than with competing technologies using cotton or oil-based fibres. Spinnova textile fibre is 100% biodegradable.
- TreeToTextile fiber is a regenerated cellulosic fiber, sustainably produced and sourced from renewable raw materials from sustainably managed forests.
- Ioncell® is a technology that turns used textiles, pulp or even newspapers into new textile fibres sustainably and without the use of harmful chemicals. The process converts cellulose into fibres that in turn can be made into long-lasting fabrics.
More information: Juha Turkki, Development Director, Climate Leadership Coalition, firstname.lastname@example.org, +358 45 3461925, Jouni Keronen, CEO, Climate Leadership Coalition, email@example.com , +358 50 4534881