Sustainability is a hot ticket item in many markets. Minimizing your eco-footprint is an attractive prospect for manufacturers and consumers alike, but the cost of “going green” is sometimes a major deterrent.
That’s where a balanced method saves the day. Contrary to popular belief, manufacturers can improve the sustainability of their products while maintaining high performance and cost-efficiency. That’s the idea behind BASF’s biomass balance approach, which brings coating formulators’ eco concerns into equilibrium by reducing the costs of eco-friendly product manufacturing.
Here’s how it works.
It’s not easy going green
The first thing to understand about biomass balance is the distinction between it and a bio-based manufacturing process.
“Bio-based means you only use renewable raw materials and have dedicated facilities so that the renewable content can be traced to the specific end-product,” says Camilo Quiñones, Market Segment Manager of Architectural Coatings at BASF.
With a bio-based approach, the whole production stream needs dedicated assets, such as reactors and pipelines, to create the bio-based end product. It is very capital-intensive for raw material suppliers to make it work.
The usual approach is to minimize the amount of dedicated resources by starting with a bio-intermediate such as sugar or ethanol. However, these alternative routes usually yield products whose performance fall short of expectations. At the end of the day, such alternative routes are not as well understood as traditional processes that have benefited from several decades of research and incremental improvements, Quiñones says.
“It doesn’t quite match the traditional version. The end product may be bio-based, but it’s inferior from a performance standpoint.”
The biomass balance approach is distinct because, in many ways, it delivers the best of both worlds. It offers manufacturers a more accessible price point, true sustainability, and equivalent performance to fossil-based products.
To create a biomass-balanced product, BASF leverages its integrated production system (Verbund). It starts by offsetting fossil feedstocks used at the upstream end of the Verbund production (cracker) with renewable feedstock that has been sourced in a sustainable manner (usually bio-gas or bio-naphtha).
The hydrocarbons from the renewable feedstock are spread throughout the Verbund along with hydrocarbons from traditional sources and end up in the manufacturing of various end products (such as plastics, polyurethanes and acrylic latex).
Thanks to BASF’s integrated model, the biomass used at the beginning of the process can be allocated to the respective final product using a certification method developed in conjunction with a third-party certification partner. The third-party audits the process to ensure that sufficient renewable bio-feedstock is entered at the beginning of the process to produce the desired amount of biomass balance within the end-product.
Giving biomass balance the green light
With the biomass balance approach, we offer the same performance, the same product, that customers are used to. It’s an innovative way to stimulate the use of bio sources without compromising on performance.
Market Segment Manager of Architectural Coatings at BASF
Without a dedicated value stream and the prohibitive investments associated with it, BASF offers biomass balance products at a more attractive price point than bio-based products.
“It’s not only simple and less expensive, but also allows formulators to continue using their tried and true products. If there’s a product they like that is currently being produced using fossil feedstock, we can provide them with the exact same product [with biomass balance],” says Quiñones. “You can do this without changing the performance and without having to reformulate your product.”
That means formulators can expect the same performance they’ve engineered in a given product, but with a certified sustainability and renewability claim — and with better cost-efficiency compared to a typical bio-based product.
The BASF Dispersions and Resins team in North America has identified several applications where the biomass balance approach could make a splash. In particular, the architectural coatings market has pinpointed new opportunities in institutional buildings seeking LEED certification.
The professional painting market has a particularly strong interest in LEED certification, the independent verification process to ensure buildings meet health and environmental standards.
“Paint can currently be used to gain points in two categories of LEED certification,” Quiñones explains, adding that paint is one of the most cost-effective ways to access credits. “If you use the biomass balance approach, you can broaden the number of credits you can get with paint.”
“That will incentivize architects working on buildings seeking LEED certifications to specify biomass based paints to access higher tiers of credits.”
The biomass balance approach has been successfully used in other regions to produce latices for premium interior paints in Europe, with DAW, and in Asia, with Nippon Paint.
“With the biomass balance approach, we offer the same performance, the same product, that customers are used to,” says Quiñones. “It’s an innovative way to stimulate the use of bio sources without compromising on performance.”