Biobased materials are the solution for mitigating Scope 3 emissions

One of the many reasons that make me support bio-based materials, is their untapped potential as circular material. There is no sand or mineral that can transform itself as a result of anerobic digestion processes as ecological and energy efficient then bio-based materials.

Transforming bio-based resources has multiple benefits. One of them is the fact that we use re-growing organic matter that (quickly) captures carbon, we then move it or simply transform it and at the end of the materials’ life-cycle it can become [ideally] one with nature again- dead organic matter.

In addition, using, re-using, up-cycling and recycling bio-based materials will be one of the key components in tackling the climate crisis and accounting for environmental responsibilty as well. The reason is that bio-based materials can be transformed into other by-products along the value chain and therefore aid in reducing scope 3 emissions (nex tto scope 1 and 2 emissions).

Scope 3 emissions are those emissions that occcur outside of control of the company such as transport and waste disposal. They constitute up to seventy-five percent of a company’s emission footprint and therefore inhibits a firm’s ability to pursue the most cost-effective carbon mitigation strategies (Downie and Stubbs, 2013). Another disadvantage is that scope 3 emissions are not accounted for in the National Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. Our current GHG inventories are therefore incomplete, or misleading.

Yesterday, I watched an excellent Webinar by UNDP on the Circular Economy and a New Generation of NDCs. It was highlighted that a country could be well on track to achieve its NDCs as most of the production, where emissions are occuring, have been outsourced. But if we would look at emissions from a “consumption” perspective”, countries would be much less likely to meet their NDCs. This particular relates to the fact that only scope 1 and 2 emissions are accounted but not scope 3 emissions.

Type 3 emissions can be largely reduced if we look at bio-based materials

When we look at the bio-based model of the circular economy, lets say for housing, it is relatively easy to point out that organic waste can be used for multiple purposes. On the image below, waste water is used and transformed into energy, which is again used to supply energy for the household and other applications.

This model can also be applied to entire cities such as on the image below. This model also runs on the integration of renewable energy and bio-based waste to generate energy and add value to the urban setting as well. The model would not function, if it would not incorporate organic waste.

The bio-based economy is more efficient then the non-bio based economy

Of course, circularity also works with other non-biobased materials, but there are limits to their re-utilization and their potential in mitigating scope 3 emissions. In the webinar an excellent example of a “smartcrusher”, which breaks concrete back into its homogenous ingredients was pointed out. I like that it is possible to reutilize these ingriedients, but there are emission limits towards their reutilization and value additon.

Bio-based materials are the answer to carbon neutrality

On the opposite, if we were to adapt more bio-based materials, we could use less finite materials, create value from organic waste products and meanwhile, add value throughout the production. An excellent example for me is bamboo, because of its versatile industrial applications and alternative to steel.

If we look at the production of bamboo boards, each waste component can be used and transformed again either in the form of energy [i.e. gas, electricity] or products [i.e. pellets, charcoal, bio-char]. I like the image of a wood production process below, because it illustrates the versatility of timber waste products. This also applies to bamboo, besides that bamboo grows much quicker and drives well in degraded soils.

Bio-based materials help our planet thrive

A few months ago my former thesis -supervisor introduced me to the concept “ThriveAbility”. ThriveAbility reframes sustainability by focusing on the positive benefits of collectively living within our means ( operating within the carrying capacities of capitals). ThriveAbility does this by weaving two additional dimensions into the sustainability equation that remedy the Social and Governance weak spots, while catalysing context-based environmental performance. It basically looks at adding value to our environment instead of exploiting it (Baue, 2016).

With bio-based products we can do so. An example is bio-char that can be produced as waste product and be fet back into farms. Biochar can be used as soil enhancer as it holds carbon, boosts food security, and increases soil biodiversity, and discourage deforestation. The process creates a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soils retain nutrients and water. Biochar is found in soils around the world as a result of vegetation fires and historic soil management practices. Intensive study of biochar-rich dark earths in the Amazon (terra preta), has led to a wider appreciation of biochar’s unique properties as a soil enhancer (InternationalBiocharInitative, 2019)

Mitigating scope 3 emissions works well on the local level

Since our supply chains are connected across the globe, it is more difficult to achieve carbon neutrality during transportation. But if we would overall , in each region and city of the supply chain focus more on bio-based materials [and renewables], we could feed more energy into our transportation system and therefore ensure that we are meeting our global target under Paris.

My ideal supply-chain would be an integrated bio-based supply chain, which integrates circularity on each stage of it. Since there are growth-limits for bio-based materials, I would emphasize circular business models for end consumers and producers; 1. To capture product value and 2. To have sufficient time for circular systems to regenerate within out planetary boundaries.

My ideal and over simplified global circular supply-chain . On factory level, we can drive on bio-waste products and feed some components back into the farm level, such as bio-char as soil amendment

On a global level, there are of course more barriers and I recommend reading the article on “Bio-based Materials Within the Circular Economy: Opportunities and Challenges” by Brundklaus and Riise (2018) to receive a greater insight into that topic.

Have you become intersted to calculate your Scope3 emissions? I found an excellent technical guideline by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which provides standards, guidance, tools and training for business and government to measure and manage climate-warming emissions. You can access it here.

For questions and comments, feel free to contact me below.

References

Baue, B. (2016). An Intro to ThiveAbility: The Next Stage of Development for Sustainability. Retrieved from: https://sustainablebrands.com/read/new-metrics/an-intro-to-thriveability-the-next-stage-of-development-for-sustainability

Brunklaus B., Riise E. (2018) Bio-based Materials Within the Circular Economy: Opportunities and Challenges. In: Benetto E., Gericke K., Guiton M. (eds) Designing Sustainable Technologies, Products and Policies. Springer, Cham

CarbonTrust (2019). What are Scope 3 emissions?. Retrieved from: https://www.carbontrust.com/resources/what-are-scope-3-emissions

Downie, J., & Stubbs, W. (2013). Evaluation of Australian companies’ scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions assessments. Journal of Cleaner Production56, 156-163.

GreenhouseGasProtocol (2020). Scope3 Calculation Guidance. Retrieved from: https://ghgprotocol.org/scope-3-technical-calculation-guidance

InternationalBiocharInitiative (2020). Biochar is a Valuable Soil Amendment. Retrieved from: https://biochar-international.org/biochar/

Soezer, A. (2019). Circular Economy and a New Generation of NDCs. UNDP Webinar. Retrieved from: https://www.ndcs.undp.org/content/ndc-support-programme/en/home/impact-and-learning/ideas-and-insights/20190/circular-economy-new-ndc-generation-.html

Limits to growth for the bio-based economy, why circularity is the way to go in 2020

A few weeks ago I watched a Netflix documentary on healthy diets, which highlighted the versatile and healthy diets of hunter gathrers. Hunter-gatherer culture was the way of life for early humans until around 11 to 12,000 years ago. The lifestyle of hunter-gatherers was based on hunting animals and foraging for food.

What I liked most about the documentary was to see a balancing interaction between humans and their ecosystem. Whatever they used to hunt, to wear and to cook was bio-based and once an item fullfilled its purpose such as food, a used spear or old clothes, they could be thrown away and turned one with nature again. Life focused on necessities, instead of likeabilities; whatever had been thrown away, needed to be thrown away.

Our way of interacting with the “real word” drastically changed and we started to become adjusted to as well as to desire materials that are non-organic. These are materials that at the end of their life-cycle accumulate in the environment somewhere, rather then becoming part of it. These are also materials that can be produced very quick!

Some of these materials include synthetically produced textiles, or the processing and use of sand and metals for construction. Others include plastic to wrap goods, or fossil fuels to supply us with heat. Hunter gatherers instead would have hunted for food and would have used all parts of their pray such as the skin for leather. They would have collected wood from the sourroundings to serve as a source of heat and fire wood. Whatever waste they had created in their different tribes, turned one with nature again.

Nowadays we are driving on quick consumption, the rush it evokes in us, the happiness it brings and the quick accessibilty for it. One click on Amazon and we can buy the new shirt of our favorite Instagram feet or those that Tom and Jaz are wearing. Another click and we can buy new shoes and a few years later, we finally can buy that interior decor we always wanted. The industry knows that and they are more then dedicated to supply new products and innovations on a rapid basis.

The industry also knows that our resources are running short, environmenal regulations are turning stronger and therefore increasing research to develop and re-apply bio-based materials. Suddenly the way of living with our environment such as of the hunter-gatherers appeals.

!Biobased materials do not equal sustainability

As an individual, I believe that you can think of various bio materials i.e. grass to produce paper or sheep woll for textile. But my favorite industrial bio-based “sustainable” material is bamboo, because it matures within 3-5 years and it can be processed into almost everything. It is also my favorite ecological resource, because it stores water year round, regenerates degraded lands and can serve as an alternative to tropical timber.

While I truly support bamboo as an alternative to other materials, I also acknowledge that its growth rate of 3-5 years is limited. Let’s say if we had 16.000 hectars of bamboo and needed all that bamboo to supply sufficient fibre in one year, then it is likely not as “renewable at the end”. I also acknowledge that certain processing methods such as the chemical once for fibre production, make it less ecological and biodegradable. This is the opposite for mechanically produced fibres, but the processing is lenghty and labour intensive. This currently makes it less desirable by the industry.

To continue promoting or developing ecological, fair or lets say “slow” materials within the current consumption model, the only way to go forward is the Circular Economy. I would say that the Circular Economy aligns well with the principles of the hunter gatherers, as waste turns into value again.

Why is that important?

Because if we want to continue promoting sustainable materials (let’s say ecological, not causing deforestation, no pollutions entering the environment), then we have to acknowledge that there are limits to growth for “bio-based materials.” Yet, to maintain that current economic model, we simply capture the value of products at the end of their lifecycle. In doing so , businesses keep the value in the company and consumers can maintain similiar consumption models.

We can achieve this by promoting business models for the circular economy that capture the value, of products and materials at the end, but also throughout the production of a product.

Would you like to know more about business models for the circular (bio-based) economy and receive help with identifying integrated models that are most suitable for your business?

Please feel free to contact me any time.

Bamboos’ fit in the construction industry – A micro material comparison

To date construction projects are following the linear economy in which man-made resources such as brickets, metals, cement and clay are used and disposed at the end of a buildings’ life cycle. In 2017, buildings and constructions together consumed 36% of the final energy produced globally while being responsible for 39% of the global energy related CO2 emissions (Gobal Status Report, 2017). Another problem is the accumulating waste and the environmental impact of the resources extracted. In Europe, each year nearly 500 million tonnes of construction waste are created.

Besides these negative effects, it also has negative effects on the “sustainability” of the building industry itself. As we consume more, and re-use less materials, we are facing resource scarcity. Coupled with a growing population and increasing urbanization, new ways of producing buildings and building components with new materials or existing once are crucial for the survival of the building industry but also our planet. One of the many material-solutions towards a sustainable building industry is bamboo.

Throuhgout the last years, bamboo has been engineered into various products. Due to its fast growth and its tensile strenght, I frame engineered bambo as a niche product that directly competes with timber. With my Master thesis, I even concluded that bamboo boards outweight timber products made from oak, maple, walnut, birch and cherry in terms of its strength properties and durability. I also concluded that missing design choices of bamboo boards turn it into a less favorable resource for timber producers and consumers. Likewise, engineered bamboo outweights timber in terms of its properties and is perceived as excellent building material, if it is less visible or more available with greater design variance.

Bamboo OSB Board

While I am not an engineer, I kept the latter in mind and compared the most used construction materials with existing or new bamboo innovations and materials.

My aim was to identify the versatile role of bamboo as sustainable construction material

As mentioned above cement, concrete, aggregates, metals, bricks, clay are the most common type of man-made building materials used in construction. Next to these natural materials, wood is also used frequently (Wang, 2018).

Cement, is a binder, a substance used for construction that sets, hardens, and adheres to other materials to bind them together. There is no present bamboo cement replacement.

Bamboo reinforced concrete

Concrete and cement are often used interchangeably, cement is actually an ingredient of concreteConcrete is a mixture of aggregates and paste. The aggregates are sand and gravel or crushed stone; the paste is water and  cement. While it is not possible to fully replace concrete with bamboo, it is possible to produce bamboo reinforced concrete (Karthik et al., 2008)

Currently  steel reinforcement is used frequently to provide additional tensile strength and energy absorption capacity to concrete members. But conventional M.S. (Mild steel) or HYSD (High Yielding Strength Deformed) bars are heavy in weight, costly, nonrenewable and un-ecofriendly material. To mitigate this concern a sustainable, renewable, ecofriendly material like bamboo can be used as steel substitute. Using bamboo reinforcement even improves the flexural performance of slab panels (Mali and Datta, 2018).

However Archila, Kaminski, Trujilo, Escamilla and Harries (2018) describe that “the poor durability and bond characteristics of bamboo require through-thickness treatment and additional surface treatment of bamboo reinforcement, respectively. Such treatments, as described in the literature, are labour intensive, costly, and often utilise materials of known toxicity .”

Metals are commonly used in the construction industry due to their durability and strength to form structural components, pipework, cladding materials and other components.

Bamboo is stronger than the metal steel, in regards to the tensile strength. Overall, the ratio of tensile strength between the weight of bamboo is six times greater than of steel. If treated and processed well, buildings can be fully engineered with bamboo. As highlighted above, bamboo can be used as concrete reinforcement and steel alternative.

Construction aggregate, or simply “aggregate”, is a broad category of coarse to medium grained particulate material used in construction, including sand, gravel, crushed stone, slag, recycled concrete and geosynthetic aggregates. Aggregates such as sand are the most mined materials in the world. According to the World Economic Forum (2019), between 32 and 50 billion tonnes of aggregate (sand and gravel) are extracted from the Earth each year. Excessive sand mining of river deltas, such as the Yangtze and Mekong, is increasing the risk of climate-related disasters, because there’s not enough sediment to protect against flooding.

Direct and indirect impacts of aggregates dredging on the marine environment (UNEP).

I found one study, in which concrete samples were produced with 1% and 3% bamboo fibers as additives. It was concluded that the addition of bamboo fiber increases the compressive strength of concrete. Substituting coarse aggregates with certain percentage of bamboo fiber produced a decreasing trend on its flexual strength, though it increased as the bamboo fiber composition/materials increased (Manlapas , Cardenas, Anacta, 2018).

Another study incoroporated bamboo ash into fly ash geopolymer concrete. It concluded that bamboo ash can be one of the alternatives to geopolymer concrete when it faces exposure to high temperatures.

Bricks are still in common use today for the construction of walls and paving and for more complex features such as columnsarchesfireplaces and chimneys. They remain popular because they are relatively small and easy to handle, can be extremely strong in compression, are durable and low maintenance, they can be built up into complex shapes and can be visually attractive.

I found only one website that sells” bamboo bricks” , but it does not describe the content of the bricks. Another study applied bamboo waste material (charcoal) on ecobricks.

What does the future hold for bamboo bricks?

Different types of wood and wood materials are also used for the construction of buildings. The company SwissKrono, produces prefabricated timber construction and uses a mix of timber and non timber material on project base. Solid timber constructions involve prefabricated sturby but relatively lightweight walls, ceilings and roof modules that are assemblied on the construction site. Other materials include the construction frames which are stabilised with OSB panels. There are also penalised constructions, in which walls and ceilings are largely prefabricated.

These type of constructions can also be produced from bamboo and likely outweight timber due to its lightweight, strength and hardwood characteristics. In addition, bamboo already matures within three to five years and could therefore serve as an alternative resource next to controversial produced timber , particular from the tropics.

A barrier for a fully ecological bamboo utilzation is the type and the amount of chemicals used for the production of engineered bamboo products. If bamboo products are produced in closed loop systems or if bio-based resins are used, bamboo could serve as a truly sustainable and circular building opportunity. Another option would be to produce modular bamboo buildings or components, that can be re-used at the end of the buildings life cycle.

Conclusion

The future of the bamboo building industry looks promosing, particular as a result of bamboo being a strong and lightweight material. However, at the moment, it seems difficult to replace conventional building materials such as cement, concrete and aggregates with bamboo. The main potential of bamboo remains in being an alternative to steel as bamboo composite material and as major structural support for buildings. Bamboo also holds huge technical potential as “background matrial” (i.e. MDF/OSB plates/ foundation). A new option seems to integrate bamboo ash into fly ash geopolymer concrete. A study suggested that bamboo ash can be one of the alternatives to geopolymer concrete.

Overall I believe that bamboo serves as a valuable “green opportunity” for the building industry that is interested in new designs, innovation and the mechanical characteristics of bamboo. With bamboo naturally degrading in the forest after at least 10 years, we can promote the use of this resoruce and the concept of “No building is meant to last forever”.

[There is one promising bamboo innovation that I did not highlight in the article. I am looking for a serious team to explore this innovation and bring it on the construtction market. Please e-mail me if you are interested] And also e-mail me for any other questions or comments.

References

Archila, H., Kaminski, S., Trujillo, D., Escamilla, E. Z., & Harries, K. A. (2018). Bamboo reinforced concrete: a critical review. Materials and Structures51(4), 102.

Global Status Report (2017). World Green Building Council. Retrieved from:  http://www.worldgbc.org.

Jöst, A. (2019). Bamboo in German Manufacturing Practices. Master Thesis. Maastricht University

Hutt, R. (2020). This is the environmental catastrophy, you probably never heard of. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/global-demand-for-sand-is-wreaking-havoc-on-rivers/

Karthik, S., Rao, R. M., Awoyera, P., Akinwumi, I., Karthikeyan, T., Revathi, A., … & Saravanan, S. (2018). Beneficiated pozzolans as cement replacement in bamboo-reinforced concrete: the intrinsic characteristics. Innovative Infrastructure Solutions3(1), 50.

Mali, P. R., & Datta, D. (2018). Experimental evaluation of bamboo reinforced concrete slab panels. Construction and Building Materials188, 1092-1100.

Manlapas, G. O., Cardenas, L.E., Anacta, E.T. (2018). Utilization of Babmoo Fiber as a Component Material in Concrete. Indian Journal of Science and Technology. 11(47).

Wang, T. (2018). Construction Materials Industry. Retrieved from: https://www.statista.com/topics/2983/construction-materials-industry/

Enjoying bamboo in Mount Halimun – Java

Yes, I do absolutely love bamboo, but there is nothing more beautiful than the interaction of entire ecosystems, ranging from a mix of plant and animal species.

I think that trees are incredible beautiful and they are incredible versatile, but name me one tree that you can use as quickly and easily as bamboo.

First of all, let me just simply begin with…wow… . Tropical bamboo is just incredible beautiful. It is huge, thick, strong with incredible leaf fall. Its leafs quickly cover forest ground, which decompose rapidly and become nutrient to other fauna and flora species (the little decomposers, hardly visible to the human eye).

Now comes my first question from the forest. Why are we transforming raw materials (lets say steel), by using tonnes of energy and resources to create a round artificial structure that fullfills the same purpose as a bamboo pole (see bank left picture). Why are we cutting and slicing trees that take likely many more years to regrow instead of using bamboo that also fullfills the same purpose (see right image). Of course, either way bamboo for longevility purposes needs treatment, but that is another story.

Bascially on these pictures here above, all you have to do is to walk in the forest with a a saw or machete, cut a bamboo pole, cut it a little more short, bind it together and here we go; a swing, buildings, stairs,… .

Here you can see a little bit better how the poles are sticked together. Okay, for the bridge you have to slice the bamboo culms into smaller stripes and parts. But even then, can you recognize how bendable bamboo is? It can even be wrapped around a finger for multiple times without breaking.

Bamboo and bendability… I think it can be difficult to imagine what it actually means, when we are used to pictures that illustrate the bamboo pole by itself. Isn’t it beautiful though? I have to commit that until this weekend I was mostly writing and reading about its bendability potential.. So I decided to sit in a river and understand it myself. I hope it will help you too 🙂

And then.. it is also fiberous. Fiberous.. Fiber.. What is actually fiber ? It is also difficult to imagine because we usually buy finished products such as textile.

Here you can see the fibers. These are those very thin “lines” that can be processed and used for textile. The process is a little bit complicated and I do not want to touch upon it. If you are interested, please read here.

Besides that, I think bamboo is simply incredible. You can use it to build houses, particular earth quake resistant once, I am yet to promote them more in regions like those in the Ring of Fire – prone to earth quakes. You can simply work with bamboos hollow structure (see picture in the rice field) but also use it to support building structures (picture in the middle).

Most of all, I think it is also incredible fun to play around with it, look at it, use it and understand how we can promote it more for its versatile purposes. Bamboo is not just a grass, to me it is a power plant; you take it from nature, cut it, treat it and use it. In an age in which time is scare! bamboo is a trully sustainable solution.