The long-term substitution of fossil resources can only be achieved through a bio-based economy, with biorefineries and bio-based products playing a major role. However, it is important to assess the implications of the transition to a bio-based economy. Life cycle-based sustainability assessment is probably the most suitable approach to quantify impacts and to identify trade-offs at multiple levels. The extended utilisation of biomass can cause land use change and affect food security of the most vulnerable people throughout the world. Although this is mainly a political issue and governments should be responsible, the responsibility is shifted to companies producing biofuels and other bio-based products. Organic wastes and lignocellulosic biomass are considered to be the preferred feedstock for the production of bio-based products. However, it is unlikely that a bio-based economy can rely only on organic wastes and lignocellulosic biomass.
It is crucial to identify potential problems related to socio-economic and environmental issues. Currently there are many approaches to the sustainability of bio-based products, both quantitative and qualitative. However, results of different calculation methods are not necessarily comparable and can cause confusion among decision-makers, stakeholders and the public.
Hence, a harmonised, globally agreed approach would be the best solution to secure sustainable biomass/biofuels/bio-based chemicals production and trade, and to avoid indirect effects (e.g. indirect land use change). However, there is still a long way to go.
Generally, the selection of suitable indicators that serve the purpose of sustainability assessment is very context-specific. Therefore, it is recommended to use a flexible and modular approach that can be adapted to various purposes. A conceptual model for the selection of sustainability indicators is provided that facilitates identifying suitable sustainability indicators based on relevance and significance in a given context.
KeywordsBio-based product Bioeconomy Biorefinery Food security LCA
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