top of page

Finding Solutions in Nature: How Bio Based Materials Help Drive Low-Carbon Economy


Hand holding cardboard alternative for product packaging

Whether it's single-use plastic waste or greenhouse gas emissions, we all know we're facing a global environmental crisis. It's easy to feel discouraged or defeated, but that's not going to help. If we're proactive about finding innovative solutions and driving real change, there's absolutely hope for a better future. 


Where should we turn? To nature, of course. There's something magical about using the earth to save the earth. In this article, we'll unpack how bio-based materials can help to drive a low carbon economy. No matter which industry we're operating in, it's about fostering a cradle-to-grave mentality and understanding how we can offset or amend our impact. 


What is a low-carbon economy?


First of all, let’s understand what we’re aiming for: a low carbon economy. This is an ecological economy driven by low energy consumption and low pollution. The British Department for Trade and Industry first coined the term “low carbon economy” in a white paper released in 2003 when referring to their energy future. 


In essence, a low carbon economy considers a product’s consumption patterns from concept to disposal. The goal is to develop products and engineering technology that prioritizes low CO₂ emissions. Moreover, it requires technical support and development for CO₂ capture, recycling, and geological disposal. 


Why carbon? While we have become relatively numb to the phrase, “global warming” is still a genuine reality. 


For decades, China has been responsible for the world’s most significant CO₂ emissions thanks to a thermal power plant that consumes around 70% of China’s annual output of raw coal. Despite introducing alternative power sources, coal still makes up more than half of China’s energy mix


A low carbon economy is crucial in an increasingly energy-demanding society. We have to make a shift to a global energy matrix that prioritizes renewable energy technologies. That’s where carbon credits come into play. While it’s fundamental that companies reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, it might be impossible to eliminate them entirely. For many, it’s necessary to use carbon credits to offset emissions. 


Voluntary carbon credits mean private financing of climate-action projects. Without this investment, these projects would struggle to get off the ground. More importantly, they have additional benefits like biodiversity protection, pollution prevention, and job creation. Carbon credits support investment into the innovation required to tackle this problem head-on, creating the ultimate circular economy.  


What is a bio-based material?


According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), biomaterials, or rather, bio-based materials, refer to products that mainly consist of a substance, or multiple substances, that come from living matter, better known as biomass. These substances naturally occur or are synthesized using a process that utilizes biomass. 


Technically, products like paper, wood, and leather are considered bio-based materials. However, it’s more commonly used to describe more modern materials that have undergone an extensive process. 


Materials produced from biomass sources include bulk chemicals, platform chemicals, solvents, polymers, and biocomposites. Many of these are then used to create new, sustainable materials. They’re a far cry from their petroleum-based counterparts, giving us hope for the future. 


The role of bio-based materials in a low carbon economy


You’re probably wondering how bio-based materials and carbon emissions intersect. For many businesses, bio-based materials are a gateway to becoming carbon neutral. By including bio-based content in products, and using circular strategies in our supply chains, we can prevent previously absorbed carbon from re-entering the atmosphere. When paired with key manufacturing facility transformations, products featuring bio-based material can often become carbon negative. 


Let’s look at a real-world example of this in action. Interface recently introduced a carbon-negative carpet tile. When measured from start to finish, including everything from raw material extraction and processing to manufacturing, there is less CO₂ in the atmosphere than before - without the purchase of carbon offsets or credits. When customers no longer want their carpets, Interface reclaims the carpet tiles, recycling them into new products. This reduces the need to harvest more raw materials and allows them to reduce their carbon footprint consistently. Using a circular model to transform their tile into new products - as opposed to adopting the linear disposal model so popular in our society - is key to preventing carbon from entering the atmosphere. 


The 2020 United Nations Environment Programme report states that the building industry is responsible for nearly 40% of the world’s energy-related emissions. Most emissions are associated with the manufacturing, transportation, and installation of building materials, making it critical for the construction industry to prioritize biomaterials. 


Timber is the most apparent bio-based material in construction projects, shifting away from concrete and steel. In the past, timber was used in more contemporary designs, like the Metropol Parasole in Seville, Spain. However, timber structures are increasing, given the various benefits of the product. 


Other bio-based alternatives include mycelium boards and bricks. It only takes five days to grow mycelium boards in a mold filled with organic waste and infused with fungal spores. The process happens naturally; the only energy required is a little heat to stop the growth at the right moment. While these bricks have lower compressive strength than conventional bricks, they’re the perfect eco-friendly solution for insulation and internal partitions. 


What about bio-based packaging?


If bio-based materials are driving impact in big industries like construction, we should look to them for sustainable packaging solutions. In 2021, the global single-use packaging market was valued at $22.59 billion. Approximately 36% of all plastics produced are used in packaging. Of that, 85% ends up in landfills or as unregulated waste. 


Fortunately, this space has some exciting innovations as we look for alternative packaging opportunities from natural materials. 


Popular bio-materials for packaging


There are several plastic alternatives that have emerged from bio-based raw materials. Some of the top contenders include:


Polylactic Acid (PLA)


Polylactic Acid is made from fermented plant starch like corn, cassava, sugarcane, or sugar beet pulp. In essence, the plant-based carbohydrate source of choice goes through bacterial fermentation, becoming a lactic acid. PLA is considered a “thermoplastic” polyester, given how it responds to heat. This makes it suitable for plastic film, bottles, and biodegradable medical devices like screws, pins, plates, and rods. It can also be used as a shrink-wrap material since it constricts under heat. 


From an environmental perspective, PLA ticks a lot of boxes. It is biodegradable under commercial composting conditions and will break down within twelve weeks. The manufacturing process itself produces 80% less CO₂ than traditional plastic. 


Lignin

Lignin is a complex organic polymer deposited in many plants’ cell walls, making them rigid and woody. It forms a critical structural material to support the tissues of these plants. As a byproduct of agricultural industries, lignin can be used for a number of sustainable packaging solutions. Its thermal stability and biodegradability make it an excellent choice for bags, packaging films, and coatings. 


Bio-Polyethylene Terephthalate (Bio-PET)

PET is short for polyethylene terephthalate, the chemical name for polyester. Unlike traditional PET, Bio-PET is made from mono ethylene glycol (MEG), a naturally occurring product of sugarcane ethanol and purified terephthalic Acid (PTA). In essence, it takes the leftovers from sugar manufacturing and ferments them to produce a biodegradable plastic-like resin. Common uses for Bio-PET include bottles, films, and textile fibers. 


Biomaterial Based Packaging Examples


Businesses looking for solutions in nature continue to emerge. With that comes more innovation and sustainable packaging alternatives. Here are some of the top brands to consider:


Cruz Foam

Cruz Foam provides a natural, bio-based styrofoam alternative. It is derived from naturally sourced biopolymers and earth-digestible materials like chitin, a waste product from the seafood industry, and it is 100% compostable. 


Cruz Foam aims to create circular materials from the ocean, for the ocean. By harnessing the diversity found in nature, they’re producing ocean-friendly, high-performance packaging alternatives that break down within weeks. 


If you’re looking for a durable alternative to one of today’s most harmful single-use plastics, inquire today!


Circule Solutions


Circule Solutions offers sustainable apparel packaging and accessories that are entirely customizable. This includes garment dust covers, hangers, buttons, and tags. 


The products themselves come from Naturtec, a business that prides itself on biobased and compostable plastic solutions. Their compostable biopolymers are produced using NTIC’s proprietary ReX process. During this process, biodegradable polymers, natural polymers, and organic and inorganic materials are reactively blended in the presence of compatibilizers and polymer modifiers. The result? A compostable polymer resin. 


Paptic

Paptic offers bio-based packaging solutions for bags and pouches used across various industries, including e-commerce shipping, product packaging, food, and homeware. The material itself is made from renewable wood fibers. It combines sustainability, strength, and positively distinguishable haptic properties perfectly. 


The goal is for Paptic materials to replace the oil-based materials currently dominating these industries. All products can be reused multiple times and eventually recycled to create more packaging paper and cardboard products. 


Pyratex

Pyratex aims to replace synthetic textiles with natural, more responsible options. They have worked to produce sustainable fabrics that have been engineered to retain the fiber’s natural properties. Not only are the materials good for the environment, but they’re better for your bodies, eliminating harmful chemicals that are often used in synthetic alternatives. 


The fabrics are made from vegetal, upcycled, or biodegradable fibers. Moreover, any active components aren’t artificially injected or added. They come from the plant itself. 


Springboard Biodiesel

Springboard Biodiesel makes appliances that allow anyone to convert waste oils and fats into a clean, burning fuel called biodiesel. All for the lowest cost possible. On average, their customers enjoy making fuel for $1.25 per gallon.


The equipment they have created is easy to operate because it’s all automated. It consistently makes top-quality biodiesel from a broad spectrum of oils, pumping the finished product into storage or any diesel engine. You’ll find their machinery in schools, military bases, community centers, farms, restaurants, or breweries. 


The Takeaway


Nature continues to deliver remarkable solutions. In order to achieve our goals for a low carbon economy, it makes sense to fiercely pursue bio-based materials in all their forms. Whether in packaging, construction, tech development, or energy, we must prioritize renewable resources that offer the sustainability we so desperately need. 

84 views0 comments

コメント


bottom of page