Large potential for greenhouse gas reduction in plastics

The production of bio-based plastics in the EU is still limited. Conversely, surfactants – commonly used in the personal care industry – do contain a high percentage of bio-based chemicals. Only 0.4% of the plastics produced in the EU are currently bio-based. This is despite the fact that bio-based chemicals offer an important opportunity to reduce the CO2 emission from the chemical industry.

The overall EU bio-based production accounts for about 4.7 Mt of bio-based chemicals per year, equivalent to about 3% of the total fossil and biobased chemical market. The total reduction potential of bio-based chemistry is estimated at 2500 Mton/year. The Paris agreement limits the climate change to maximum 2 °C, which means a reduction of greenhouse gases of 40% in the EU.

The need to reduce fossil fuel dependence in the chemical industry has led to the emergence of bio-based alternative products. A new study by the prestigious Joint Research Centre (JRC) – the European Commission’s science and knowledge service – and Biomass Technology Group b.v. (BTG) details the potential of European bio-based markets. As bio-based chemicals have yet to be precisely defined, official European statistics provide limited insights on their environmental impacts and production trends.

"Having a comprehensive database with all this information at our disposal is a great opportunity for us" says Claudia Parisi, one of the JRC researchers involved in the report, "because now we are able to conduct a comprehensive analysis on these 10 product categories. This step is essential for the identification of market gaps and development opportunities".  

Based on detailed methodology, market data and expert opinions, the authors map the EU markets of bio-based chemicals in 10 key bio-based chemical product categories. Their findings also show that each product category will evolve differently in terms of market maturity, market potential and percentage of bio-based chemicals.   

“We are very proud of this result” says Jurjen Spekreijse, one of the researchers at BTG involved in the project, “we have sketched a clear picture of the current bio-based market in the EU, which gives insight in a lot of market data that is now publicly available. Moreover, this study clearly indicates a number of data gaps that should be further investigated.”

Policy interventions aimed at stimulating the bio-based markets could be oriented towards investment incentives. Commercial markets of bio-based alternatives could also be promoted by regulations, as is currently seen in the lubricant market. Another option is providing a better market position for bio-based chemicals through the often-discussed carbon taxes.

This study provides initial evidence to inform policymakers about the untapped potential and opportunities of the bio-based chemical market and offers fresh insights on major market drivers and constraints that can stimulate the interest of stakeholders and customers in bio-based chemical products.

Read the entire study report on the JRC website here