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Bio-based carbon

Carbon derived from biomass


Biodegradability refers to a process in which microorganisms convert the material into substances such as compost, carbon dioxide, methane or water through metabolic or enzymatic processes. The ultimate condition is the complete transformation of organic compounds into reduced simple molecules (such as carbon dioxide/methane, nitrate/ammonium, and water) and new biomass. Under aerobic conditions, carbon dioxide is the primary gas emitted while in the case of anaerobic conditions it is methane. The term “biodegradable” should always be associated with the type of medium (e.g. soil, water, in vitro medium), the conditions (e.g. temperature and humidity) and the duration of the biodegradation. For instance, among currently marketed bioplastics, PLA is always claimed as “biodegradable” while in reality, PLA is only industrially compostable (e.g. at 58°C and controlled conditions of humidity). Without this, PLA packaging, despite being made from renewable resources, is a plastic that will persist in our environment for a hundred years.

Biodegradable plastics

Biodegradable plastic means a plastic capable of undergoing physical, biological decomposition, such that it ultimately decomposes into carbon dioxide, biomass and water, without leaving behind any residue, and in accordance with European standards for packaging recoverable through composting and anaerobic digestion. Biodegradable plastics are designed to biodegrade in a specific medium (water, soil, compost) under certain conditions and in varying periods of time. (EEA, 2020) Therefore the label “biodegradable” must always have a clear sign of the environment in which the test was performed.


The bioeconomy covers all sectors and systems that rely on biological resources (animals, plants, micro-organisms and derived biomass, including organic waste), their functions and principles. It includes and interlinks: land and marine ecosystems and the services they provide; all primary production sectors that use and produce biological resources (agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture); and all economic and industrial sectors that use biological resources and processes to produce food, feed, bio-based products, energy and services. / * Biomedicines and health biotechnology are excluded


A substance which contains living micro-organisms which, when applied to seeds, plant surfaces, or soil, colonise the rhizosphere or the interior of the plant and promotes growth by increasing the supply or availability of primary nutrients to the host plant. Note to entry: Biofertilisers add nutrients through the natural processes of nitrogen fixation, solubilizing phosphorus, and stimulating plant growth through the synthesis of growth-promoting substances. The micro-organisms in biofertilisers restore the soil's natural nutrient cycle and build soil organic matter. Through the use of biofertilisers, healthy plants can be grown, while enhancing the sustainability and the health of the soil. Biofertilisers can be expected to reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, but they are not yet able to replace their use.


Biorefining is the sustainable processing of biomass into a spectrum of bio-based products (food, feed, chemicals, materials) and bioenergy (biofuels, power and/or heat) (De Jong et al, 2020). This concept is analogous to today's petroleum refinery, which produces multiple fuels and products from petroleum.

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS)

The process of capturing carbon dioxide before it enters the atmosphere, transporting it, and storing it for centuries or millennia.

Carbon capture and use (CCU)

The process of capturing carbon dioxide to be recycled for further usage. CCU is a broad term that covers all established and innovative industrial processes that aim at capturing carbon dioxide– either from industrial point sources or directly from the air – and at transforming the captured carbon dioxide into a variety of value-added products such as chemical building blocks, food/feed, synthetic fuels or materials.

Carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS)

Technologies that involve the capture of carbon dioxide from fuel combustion or industrial processes, the transport of this carbon dioxide via ship or pipeline, and either its use as a resource to create valuable products or services or its permanent storage deep underground in geological formations. CCUS technologies also provide the foundation for carbon removal or "negative emissions" when the carbon dioxide comes from bio-based processes or directly from the atmosphere.

Carbon debt

The initial emission of biogenic-CO2 from forest bioenergy when it is higher than the emissions from a reference fossil system. It is called debt because the forest re-growth combined with the continuous substitution of fossil fuels may, in time, repay the “debt”.

Carbon footprint

The full quantity of greenhouse gases that can be attributed to an individual, a plant, a company, a product or a whole economy.


Balancing the amount of carbon released – by burning fossil fuels or biomass, or the decomposition of plant biomass, for example – with an equivalent amount put into and stored in soils, plant and animal tissues, or other material such as the ocean floor.


Cascading use is the efficient utilization of resources by using residues and recycled materials for material use to extend total biomass availability within a given system. In a single-stage cascade, the wood is processed into a product and this product is used once more for energy purposes. In a multistage cascade, the wood is processed into a product and this product is used at least once more in material form before disposal or recovery for energy purposes.


Treatment process that decomposes organic matter in an oxygenated environment. The result is nutrient-rich fertilizer or soil amendment.. Common types of composting include industrial composting (also known as ‘commercial composting’) and home composting.


A chemical or natural substance added to soil or land to increase its fertility.

Life cycle assessment (LCA)

Life cycle assessment (previously also known as life cycle analysis) is defined as a systematic analysis of environmental impacts of a product or service throughout its entire life cycle. For this analysis, the material and energy inputs and outputs along all steps of the life cycle (this includes raw material extraction, production, distribution, use and disposal at end-of-life) are collected and then assessed in terms of potential environmental impacts of a product system. LCA is accepted as one of the main methods to identify environmental impacts and is standardised on the widely accepted standards ISO 14040 and ISO 14044. Life cycle inventory and life cycle impact assessment are consecutive parts of a life cycle assessment.Comparative life cycle assessment refers to a life cycle assessment. in which two or more products or systems are compared. Streamlined life cycle assessment refers to a simplified version of a life cycle assessment. that focuses on the most significant environmental impacts of a product or system.

Natural capital

The stock of renewable and non-renewable resources (e.g. plants, animals, air, water, soils, minerals) that combine to yield a flow of benefits to people.


A refinery is a technical plant for the purification and refinement of raw materials (e.g. fractionation of crude oils via distillation which is based on the different boiling points of the respective fractions). Often, it refers to a petroleum oil refinery, which consists of a group of chemical engineering processing and refining units to convert crude oil into basic chemicals for further utilisation. This is usually done via cracking (steam cracking or catalytic cracking), a process in which large hydrocarbon molecules are broken down into smaller and more useful ones. A key product of a refinery is fossil-based petroleum naphtha, an intermediate liquid hydrocarbon stream, which serves as a raw material for the production of many other chemicals. Petroleum naphtha can be replaced with naphtha derived from renewable carbon alternatives (either bio-based, CO2 -based or chemical recycling). Different refineries also exist for other raw materials, e.g. sugar, salt, natural gas, edible oils, metals etc.

Value chains

A value chain describes the flow of value between different actors in a supply chain and may include a broader set of actors than in supply chains. Value can be reflected by a range of terms: • Economic – where value chains describe the flow of profit or income between actors in the supply chain. For example, the flow of income to different actors based on the input and output costs. • Environmental/climatic – where value chains describe the flow of benefits to given environmental or climate objectives. For example, the greenhouse gas emissions avoided as a result of a bioeconomy value chain. • Social – where value chains describe the flow of benefits to people and communities. For example, the jobs created in rural areas as a result of new value chains. These are distinct from supply chains, which describe the flow of goods and services between different actors, such as the production of wheat, its collection, processing, the manufacturing of pasta and eventual sale.

Waste streams

Waste streams are flows of specific waste, from its source through to recovery, recycling or disposal. Waste streams can be divided into two main categories: material-related streams (including metals; glass; paper and cardboard; plastics; wood; rubber; textiles; bio-waste) and product-related streams (including packaging; electronic waste; batteries and accumulators; end-of-life vehicles; mining, construction and demolition waste). Each waste stream has its specific characteristics and applicable legislation, including in terms of treatment method, hazardousness, practical recovery and recycling possibilities.

The glossary contains terms and definitions sourced from the BIOSWITCH Glossary of terms and definitions. Access the glossary provided by the Bioswitch EU project here.

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