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European Commission | The potential of emerging bio-based products to reduce environmental impacts

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ABSTRACT - The current debate on the sustainability of bio-based products questions the environmental benefits of replacing fossil- by bio-resources. Here, we analyze the environmental trade-offs of 98 emerging bio-based materials compared to their fossil counterparts, reported in 130 studies. Although greenhouse gas life cycle emissions for emerging bio-based products are on average 45% lower (−52 to −37%; 95% confidence interval), we found a large variation between individual bio-based products with none of them reaching net-zero emissions. Grouped in product categories, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions ranged from 19% (−52 to 35%) for bioadhesives to 73% (−84 to −54%) for biorefinery products. In terms of other environmental impacts, we found evidence for an increase in eutrophication (369%; 163 to 737%), indicating that environmental trade-offs should not be overlooked. Our findings imply that the environmental sustainability of bio-based products should be evaluated on an individual product basis and that more radical product developments are required to reach climate-neutral targets.



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