The biobased economy, converting organic matter into energy, fuels and materials, is a subject undergoing intense study. It can cheer on environmentally responsible actions, building a low carbon economy and creating new jobs for the growing population. However, the use of biomass can also drive up food prices, compete with land and resources, and increase emissions through land use change. This ongoing discussion is part of the well-known sustainability debate. The aim is to build a biobased economy with positive environmental, economic and social impacts (i.e. increased sustainability), but the question arises: how will we measure and monitor this sustainability?
The sustainability of biobased products can be assessed by indicators measuring different aspects of the environment, economy and society. However, if data-availability is limited, the use of certain indicators can be time consuming and costly, especially for smaller companies with limited available resources. Today’s challenge is to find the appropriate methods and indicators to evaluate these biobased products and make sure they contribute to a sustainable society.
In my research I am developing a comprehensive set of sustainability indicators to evaluate biobased chemicals. The developed set of indicators will be applied on two real-life cases within the biochemical industry (i.e. algae-biorefinery and CCU to bioplastics). With these case-studies the practicability of the indicators will be proven. Hasselt University is collaborating with the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) and the University of Antwerp in order to join the necessary expertise needed for this research.