Europe Reports

Certifications for Biobased Materials Gains Steam in EU Coatings Sector

By Sean Milmo, European Correspondent | July 19, 2013

The certification schemes are enabling companies to show that they are at the forefront of moves to set high sustainability standards.

Certification systems for verifying the sources of  biobased raw materials and their content in finished products  are already operating in the agriculture and food sectors in Europe.

Now they are beginning to be introduced into the chemicals supply chain for coatings and other sectors in the region.
However, at the moment the highest level of verification they are aiming to provide is what is called ‘book and claim’ schemes, under which materials are certified as being biobased but are not traceable to the agricultural source at the beginning of the supply chain.
There is no system at present for segregating specifically sourced  biobased materials from other materials in the supply chain.
Basic certification schemes are now being started by leading coatings and raw materials companies in order to respond to an increasing interest among groups like retailers, construction companies and certain environmentally-conscious consumers in products derived from renewables.

The schemes  are enabling companies to show that they are  at the forefront of moves to set high sustainability standards, particularly in the area of carbon dioxide emissions, and to encourage players along the supply chain to comply with these standards.
The most ambitious project in the coatings supply chain  so far is being set up by AkzoNobel  and Solvay, a Belgium-based multinational chemicals producer.

The two companies signed a three-year agreement in June under which AkzoNobel will buy, indirectly, increasing amounts of  epichlorohydrin, an epoxy  resins intermediate normally made from petrochemicals. It is  produced  by Solvay under the brand name Epicerol from glycerine derived from the production of biodiesel.
Under another deal earlier this year, AkzoNobel  pledged to buy renewable coatings  solvents from Solvay.  But the latest agreement  is unusual because AkzoNobel will be buying Epicerol  via its purchases of epoxy resins from Solvay’s epichlorohydrin customers, mainly for use in its marine coatings.

The book-and-claim system underpinning the scheme will involve the third-party auditing of the transactions between Solvay and its customers and then between the resin producers and AkzoNobel in order to monitor the amounts  of Epicerol  passing down the supply chain between the two companies.

“To the best of our knowledge, such a multi-stage, book-and-claim, value chain approach is a first in the chemicals and coatings industry,” said Peter Nieuwenhuizen, AkzoNobel’s director of future-proof supply chains. “Where it makes sense, we will make further deals like this for our businesses.”

“We expect to source 20 percent of our total epichlorohydrin demand as a biobased material by 2016, (which is) an expectation based on market and demand conditions continuing as currently anticipated,” he continued.  “The agreement doesn’t impact on pricing, which remains between Solvay  and its customers and AkzoNobel and its suppliers.”

For AkzoNobel the agreement fits in well with its strategy for biobased chemicals in which it is focusing on developing supply channels and applications for them rather than on the in-house development of them. 

“We aim to work across the supply chain to integrate biobased raw materials,” explained Nieuwenhuizen, whose company sees itself as being a pioneer in the encouraging of the use of biobased products among suppliers and customers.
Currently approximately nine percent of its expenditure on raw materials in both its coatings and speciality chemicals sectors is on biobased chemicals. But it wants to considerably increase that figure by taking advantage of the move from first-generation bio feedstocks based mainly on food crops to the second generation derived mostly from cellulosic waste.

“We plan to take first generation opportunities as a stepping stone but insist suppliers work towards the second generation,” he said.
The company is also conscious that, at a time of threats of  raw materials shortages, renewables can be an alternative source of supplies.

“(The deal with Solvay) leads to greater collaboration in the supply chain,” said Nieuwenhuizen. “In general we aim to work on biobased solutions that also address a supply bottleneck in the chain.” 

As a result of the agreement, Solvay is increasing production capacity of Epicerol in an epichlorohydrin plant in China after already raising capacity in a plant in Thailand and another in France.

“Our goal is to develop a preference for Epicerol and thereby contribute to a more sustainable world,” said Jean-Luc Preat, head of Solvay’s Epicerol business. “By developing a biobased supply route next to the traditional petrochemical route  we are (also) helping to reinforce the  security of supplies to the industry.”

However, Solvay revealed that the two companies have still to finalize the procedure for verifying the quantities of Epicerol indirectly purchased by AkzoNobel.  “This verification will likely involve an independent consultant to ensure confidentiality between the various supply chain partners and compliance with competition laws.”

DSM, a Dutch-based supplier of coatings resins and other materials as well as life sciences products, which is backward integrating into biobased feedstocks made through  biotechnology processes, uses carbon dioxide emission levels as the major criteria for gauging the sustainability of biobased materials. It conducts numerous carbon-footprint measurements on its and suppliers’ products. 

The company recently launched a new range of  biobased  waterborne alkyd coating resins  with an “extremely low carbon footprint” so that coatings producers could differentiate their decorative paints from standard waterborne ones.

“Currently, there is no generally recognized system for certification of biobased coatings,” said a DSM official. “Measuring the carbon 14/12 isotope ratio is the current method to determine what percentage of the coating is biobased carbon.  This is how we at DSM test the biobased content and the results of these measurements are the same as the theoretical values.”

BASF, which is a leading supplier of coatings raw materials while also being a major coatings producer, has recently adopted a uniform system for measuring both the renewables and fossil-derived content of products.  This is done by converting both to their methane equivalents.

“The amount of renewable feedstock used is then allocated to dedicated products based on their individual formulation,” Martin Brudermueller, BASF vice-chairman, told a conference at Ludwigshafen, Germany, in June  on the company’s performance materials, including coatings materials and additives.

“The approach is about crediting the use of renewable feedstock to specific products rather than an analysis of the measureable biobased content in these products,” he continued. 

This “mass balance” methodology, which has been developed jointly by BASF and Tued-Sued, a Munich-based verification and technical services organization, applies only when the renewable and fossil materials are chemically identical.  It is consistent with BASF’s policy that the use of biomass must not impair product quality.

It is a simplified approach to certification which could be a challenge to some of BASF’s competitors who are  concentrating on creating more complex systems.

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