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Industrial innovation

Bio-based products


Innovative use of renewable raw materials

Industrial and consumer products based on renewable, biological raw materials such as plants and trees are the subject of the lead market on bio-based products. It also encompasses non-food new bio-based products and materials such as bio-based-plastics, -lubricants, -surfactants, –pharmaceuticals and enzymes. Generally, there is a strong interest to find out what capabilities bio-based products can offer for new and existing markets and to substitute products based on other raw materials.

The Lead Market Initiative for Bio-based Products was completed by end of 2011 (see here the final evaluation report pdf - 4 MB [4 MB] )

Ad-hoc Advisory Group for Bio-based Products

In the framework of the Lead Market Initiative, the Commission appointed an Ad-hoc Advisory Group for Bio-based Products composed of representatives from national governments, industry and academia. The group has carried out its tasks according to its remit and prepared a range of documents containing elaborated recommendations to enable the market uptake of bio-based products.
The following list contains the priority recommendations which the Group has agreed on as central to the realization of a coherent political framework for supporting bio-based economy in a long-lasting manner.

The Ad-hoc Advisory Group for Bio-based Products prepared also other documents:

More information on the European Commission's strategy on bio-economy

The Bio-based products sector

The term "bio-based" expresses that the products are made from biological raw materials such as plants and trees that are renewable raw materials. It excludes food, traditional paper and wood products, but also bio-mass as an energy source. Bio-based products can substitute fossil-based products. They are neutral in terms of greenhouse gas and leave a smaller ecological footprint, i.e. generate less waste, use less energy and water. Less consumption of natural resources lowers production cost and is better for the environment.


For this potential to come true, the markets for the new products need to grow fast. This means that they have to satisfy various end-used requirements at a competitive cost and that their entire life cycle - from conception over production and transportation to waste - is environmentally friendly. Perceived uncertainty about product properties and weak market transparency however hinder the fast take-up of those products. This is all the more regrettable, as Europe is well placed in this market area, building on a leading technological and industrial position.


The Commission's action plan for this lead market integrates all necessary actions in a synchronised way to favour the innovation of the new products and services. The actions range from improving the implementation of the present targets for bio-based products over standardisation, labelling and certification to ensure the quality and consumer information on the new products to harnessing the purchases of public authorities to set the example.There are important interlinks between some bio-based products and bio-energy which influence the degree and timing of introduction of bio-products. The large interdependencies and complex value chains across a wide range of products characterises the lead market approach in this domain, which calls for a coherent and coordinated approach in particular across the different policy areas affecting bio-based lead markets (Common Agriculture Policy, enterprise policy, environmental policy, …). European citizens will greatly benefit from reduced dependency on fossil products and of reduced emission of pollutants, through the wider use of these bio-based products. In the medium term, additional capacity could also help to reduce prices of average goods.



Product performance standards

The Commission has identified that there is a lack of suitable European standards for bio-based products, in particular for the determination of bio-based content as well as other products capabilities including functionalities, the evaluation of environmental impact, and a number of other purposes. European standardisation activities are also elaborated, wherever possible, in cooperation with the international standards bodies and take into account relevant on-going activities in other parts of the world.

The absence of standards effectively hinders the market uptake of bio-based products, both on consumer markets and in public procurement. To address this shortcoming, the Commission issued, since 2008, four mandates (one programming and three standardisation mandates) for bio-based products:

Mandate M/429 for the programming of standards for all types of bio-based products

The programming mandate aims at producing a review of already existing European standards on all types of bio-based products, identifying needed pre-and co-normative research and proposing a work programme for the elaboration of standards which will guide future decisions, including possible future Commission mandates. CEN delivered a final report (CEN/BT/WG 2009 “Bio-Based Products” Report). In this final report CEN’s standards analysis focused on the status of existing standards determining the criteria bio-based content / amount of renewable raw materials, product functionality / technical performance, end of life, Life-Cycle Assessment, sustainability and research needs. The CEN working group (WG) 209 identified a lack of umbrella standards which can be applied to any kind of bio-based product. Furthermore, the results of the standards analysis identified a lack of a consistent terminology for bio-based products. Consequently, two additional standardisation mandates were submitted to CEN.

Mandate M/430 for the rapid elaboration of pre-standards for bio-based lubricants and bio-based polymers

The standardisation mandate calls for European standards to be developed immediately for bio-lubricants and bio-polymers. Technical Specifications will first be prepared as an interim output and those will later be converted into full European Standards (ENs). The European standards should cover the following aspects:

  • biodegradability (for bio-lubricants only),
  • ­product functionality,
  • ­impact on greenhouse gas emissions and raw material consumption,
  • ­measurement methods, test methods, and Life Cycle Analysis procedures.

CEN has accepted the two mandates and integrated the work into existing Technical Committees and Working Groups, which will allow for efficiency gains and better coordination. The following first standardisation document is available: CEN/TR 15932 "Plastics - Recommendation for terminology and characterisation of biopolymers and bioplastics" already issued. Two more are in the issuing process ("Plastics - Determination of the bio-based carbon content" and "Plastics - Declaration of the bio-based carbon content". Moreover, the Technical Report “Bio-Lubricants” (CEN/TR 16227), which is the first official outcome of the working group CEN TC19/WG33, entitled "Bio-lubricants - Recommendation for terminology and characterisation of bio-lubricants and bio-based lubricants" is now also available. European Norms are expected later on.

Mandate M/491 on the development for bio-based surfactants and-solvents of European standards

This mandate concerns the development for bio-surfactants and bio-solvents of European standards together with Technical Specifications (TSs) and/or Technical Reports (TRs) as interim outputs. The standards and the TSs and TRs shall relate to the biodegradability, product functionality, impact on greenhouse gas emissions, and the amount of different renewable raw materials (RRMs) and/or different bio-based contents used during the manufacturing of such bio-surfactants and bio-solvents. This mandate is also linked both to the earlier mandates M/429 and M/430 as well as to the new mandate M/492. This mandate was accepted by CEN in 2011 and work started in October 2011.

Mandate M/492 on the development of various horizontal standards and other standardisation deliverables for bio-based products as a follow-up of the received CEN Report on the programming mandate

This mandate concerns the development of various horizontal standards and other standardisation deliverables for bio-based products as a follow-up of the CEN Report of CEN/BT/WG 209 "Bio-based products" on the earlier programming mandate M/429 on Bio-based Products. This mandate is also linked both to the mandate to the earlier mandates M/429 and M/430 as well as to the new mandate M/491. This mandate was accepted by CEN in 2011 and work started in October 2011.

Inventory of legislation affecting the sector

In 2008, the Commission set up an expert group composed of representatives from national governments, industry and academia, entitled the Ad-hoc Advisory Group for Bio-based Products.

Bio-based products are affected directly or indirectly by a large number of legal acts and public policies at EU, national or even local level. The Ad-hoc Advisory Group for Bio-based Products has analysed the impact of existing legislation and policies on products made from renewable raw material. The analysis has focused on all the different steps in the production chain: the provision of renewable raw materials, the production of intermediate materials and components and the manufacture of assembled products, the consumption, and finally the disposal of the product as waste.

This analysis is complicated for two reasons: many legal acts at different levels influence the manufacture, sale and disposal of bio-based products; and bio-based products are not one uniform product group, but a broad range of products with completely different characteristics, qualities and uses.

The Advisory Group issued various recommendations, e.g. in the following areas:

  • Policies promoting market development;
  • Coherence of legislation on waste, recovery and recycling related to bio-based products and in comparison with others;
  • Ensure that biomass-related legislation encourages a sustainable use of biomass for bio-based products.

Encourage Green Public Procurement

The potential for increasing demand for bio-based products through public procurement is huge, as European public authorities spend almost €2000 billion, or 16% of GDP, on goods and services yearly. Almost all product areas could potentially feature products made entirely or partly from renewable raw material. Likewise, the production of almost all types of services could potentially benefit from bio-based inputs.

By introducing requirements for environmental sustainability in tender specifications, the demand from public authorities could significantly increase the market for green products and drive technological innovation. Member States have given political support to an increase in Green Public Procurement (GPP). However, the improvements have to be accomplished through action at the national, regional and local level.

The Green Public Procurement Guidelines now include criteria that allow bio-based products to be given preference in tender specifications. The European Commission cooperates with Member States and stakeholders to set common GPP criteria for endorsement in national action plans. The fact that a product is bio-based is not alone a proof of its environmental sustainability; a range of other factors need to be considered (e.g. health, safety, environmental effects, waste).

By integrating the requirement for bio-based content with other common GPP criteria and by applying the EU Eco-label to products complying with a minimum level of bio-based content set for that product category, public procurers are able to distinguish the products that should be eligible for preferential selection.

More information:


European Bioeconomy

The 2012 launched Communication on the European Bioeconomy, building upon the work and results of the bio-based products Lead Market Initiative, is aimed at assisting Europe in making the transition to a more resource efficient society that relies more strongly on renewable biological resources to satisfy consumers' needs, industry demand and tackle climate change.

See also: Bioeconomy Strategy Press Pack

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