Nova-Institut, an independent research institute based in Germany, has carried out a sustainability study of bio-based raw materials for the chemical industry. The assessment analyses the strengths and weaknesses of sugar plants, starch plants, virgin wood as well as waste and residues for the production of bio-based chemicals. According to the results, first-generation fermentable sugar is as advantageous as second-generation to develop a sustainable raw material strategy for the European chemical industry.

While all the analysed materials contribute to a considerable reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the study highlights that the use of first-generation sugar cane offers the lowest GHGs abatement costs. Additionally, the findings indicate that first-generation feedstock do not represent competition with arable land due to efficient land-use practices (especially in the case of sugar beet) and the presence of protein-rich by-products (mainly wheat and maize) used as animal feed. The high land-use efficiency also ensures that the negative effects of intensive agriculture on water, air, soil and biodiversity are limited to a comparatively small area.

The criteria used to assess the sustainability of the raw materials are based on the latest standards and certification schemes for bio-based fuels and materials. These criteria encompass greenhouse balance, greenhouse abatement costs, land efficiency, food security, protein by-products, employment, rural development, livelihood of farmers and forest workers, risk of land-use change, logistics, infrastructure, availability, traceability, social impacts, biodiversity as well as air and soil quality.

Nova-Institut concludes that bio-based chemicals from all raw materials offer advantages in terms of reducing GHG emissions and should equally be considered for a sustainable strategy for the European chemical industry.

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The study is available at: