WHAT ARE BIOSYNTHETICS?
A biosynthetic fiber consists of polymers made from renewable resources, either wholly or partly.
Biopolymers, commercially available today, have come from renewable sugars, starches and lipids (1st generation feedstocks such as corn, sugar cane, beets, plant oils) and include polymers that are 100% biobased as well as partially biobased.
Various technologies are under development to produce biosynthetics from a broader range of raw materials including biomass (resources from agriculture and forestry known as 2nd generation), and algae, fungi and bacteria (3rd generation). While many of these have been piloted at concept level, they are not currently commercially available.
WHAT ARE BIOSYNTHETIC FIBERS USED FOR?
Biosynthetic fibers can be found in more products than you imagine. These are some of them…
WHY BIOSYNTHETICS ARE IMPORTANT
Global demand for textiles is expected to more than double by 2050. There is space and opportunity within our current raw material portfolio to diversify while improving performance.
Biosynthetics are an emerging preferred fiber, gaining traction with clothing, footwear, and household brands and retailers due to their use of renewable resources and their potential to mitigate climate change compared to their petroleum-based counterparts.
In line with a broader vision, biosynthetic textiles are part of the transition towards a biobased economy.
50 years of oil remaining
Based on BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2016, there are about 115 years of coal production, and roughly 50 years of both oil and natural gas remaining.
Whilst many worry about the possibility of fossil fuels running out, the CICERO predict that we will have to leave between 65 to 80% of current known reserves untouched if we are to stand a chance of keeping average global temperature rise below the 2 degrees global target.
[Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford]
Keeping global warming under 2℃, striving for 1.5℃
At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015 (COP21), 195 countries adopted the first ever universal and legally binding global climate deal.
Over 100 companies from more than 20 countries have made a notable commitment to implement actions on responsible policy engagement in their company.
Biobased products represent €57billion in revenue
An assessment carried out by the European Commission indicated that biobased products and biofuels represent approximately €57 billion in annual revenue and involve 300,000 jobs.
According to forecasts, the biobased share of all chemical sales will rise to 22% by 2020, with a compounded annual growth rate of close to 20%.
45 countries have developed national policy strategies
A 2015 study commissioned by the German Bioeconomy Council identified that, in total, 45 countries have developed national policy strategies with significant impact on bioeconomy development.
[German Bioeconomy Council]
POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF BIOSYNTHETIC FIBERS
While fossil fuel based synthetics accelerate global warming, renewable biobased raw materials can mitigate this by using CO2 within the growing phase of the plant-based raw material.
Biosynthetic fibers use natural renewable resources either wholly or partly. This decoupling from fossil fuels will reduce risks associated with oil price instability over the long term.
PART OF A MORE SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
The benefits to industry and society of a shift to biobased materials could be significant. Biosynthetic fibers have the potential to produce fewer greenhouse gases over their lifecycle than products made from fossil fuels.
ASSESSING THE BENEFITS
Biosynthetics utilize renewable resources, and have the potential to mitigate climate change (through the use of CO2 during the growing phase) when compared to petro-based fibers.
Many biosynthetics are chemically identical to their fossil fuel counterparts and can be processed on the same equipment.
The ultimate goal is to collect and collate metrics and life cycle data for biosynthetics to the same level as that of other preferred fibers.
Quantifying the sustainability impacts will help demonstrate the benefits of using biosynthetics within a preferred fiber portfolio.
There is already a developing portfolio of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) data on which to base the sustainability impacts of biosynthetics.
However, as an emerging fiber, these metrics are currently inconsistent in terms of: depth of work studied, framework of LCA boundaries and methodology, use of open sourced data, and breadth of data to represent variations in global regions and supply bases.
Furthermore, the lack of standardized LCA benchmarking for virgin synthetics makes it challenging to compare and draw conclusions on the sustainability of biosynthetics.