Understanding Biobased Carbon Content Measurement

  • Biobased carbon testing is able to distinguish biobased from non-biobased products
  • The terms biobased and non-biobased are applicable to carbon-containing products
  • A product’s biobased carbon content is reported as a fraction of total organic carbon content (TOC) and not on its weight according to ASTM D6866
  • A product’s biobased carbon content can be reported as a fraction of total carbon content (TC) according to other standardized methods such as ISO 16620-2 and CEN 16640.

Here are some definitions to clarify the concepts:

BIOBASED – Materials that are derived in whole or in part from biomass resources are biobased. Biomass resources are organic materials that are available on a renewable or recurring basis such as crop residues, wood residues, grasses, and aquatic plants. Corn ethanol is a well-known example of a biobased material derived from biomass resources.

BIOBASED PRODUCT – Any product that contains some amount of biobased material within it is technically a biobased product. The term is typically applied only to materials containing carbon.

NON-BIOBASED PRODUCT – Any product that does not contain any biobased materials in it is a non-biobased product, but the term is typically applied only to materials containing carbon. Products made entirely from petrochemical resources are referred to as non-biobased products. Glass, however, is not generally referred to as non-biobased material since it doesn’t contain any carbon.

PERCENT BIOBASED CARBON CONTENT – This is a measure of the amount of biomass-derived carbon in a product as compared to its total organic carbon content (Biobased carbon to TOC)​ per ASTM D6866. Other analytical standard methods such as EN 16640 and ISO 16620-2 allow biobased results to be reported as a fraction of total carbon (TC). Both have become acceptable ways of measuring biobased carbon content.


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Biobased Content Measurements

The emerging biobased manufacturing industry is producing large quantities of products that contain mixtures of both biobased materials and petroleum-derived materials. “Percent biobased” is a measure of the amount of biobased carbon in the product as compared to the sum of biobased and petroleum-based carbon in the product. A percent biobased value of 75% would mean that of all the carbon in the product, 75% of it is biobased and 25% is petroleum based.1

The purpose of a biobased content measurement is to determine how much of the carbon within a biobased product is derived from biomass. The value represents a measure of how much biobased material a company is using to manufacture its products relative to the more readily available and less expensive petroleum-based alternatives.

1. Schonhofer, Franze. 14C in Austrian Wine and Vinegar. RADIOCARBON, VOL. 34, No. 3, 1992, P. 768-7711.

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