Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
March 22, 2012

March 2012

As agreed at the last TEC, cooperation in the area of standardization for various biobased product groups and the bioeconomy as a whole can be helpful to both sides of the Atlantic in promoting a sustainable economy with biobased products as a key component. The Bioeconomy Strategy released by the European Union (EU) on February 13, 2012 underscores the importance the EU leadership places on building an economy on sustainable principles by driving the transition from a fossil-based to a bio-based society. On February 21, 2012, President Obama released a Presidential Memorandum outlining its commitment to biobased and sustainable purchasing by the U.S. Federal Government.

Cooperation can take place on many levels.

There are short-term opportunities for cooperation on the horizon, as well as more long term projects that should be nurtured. In particular, deliverables from the TEC for more intense cooperation can take place through exploration of the following issues:

Standardization – To further mutually beneficial agendas, an exchange of information with EU and US experts on standardization work, which is ongoing in CEN on bio-based products and with ASTM, would be of practical assistance to SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) as they seek to navigate this new marketplace and expand their offering and scope of biobased products. New models that allow sharing of knowledge of each other’s standards development will help us both create the global market for biobased products that is necessary to continue to generate new growth. It can also save SMEs the additional costs of duplicative standards and test methods.

There is a need for mechanisms that allow for better alignment and benefit from ongoing work in the emerging biobased product sector. One model to examine is how ASTM and CEN have employed models of peer to peer technical cooperation recently in the areas of toys (cadmium content) and biofuels that could be employed for biobased products.[1] Direct engagement and cooperation between ASTM and CEN in these areas led to important exchanges related to sharing technical data and discussing common testing approaches that led to revisions and more common attributes in standards, joint referencing, and mutual acceptance of test methods amongst the leading standards bodies ASTM, CEN, and ISO.

In the short-term, the ASTM Committee D20 on Plastics is meeting in April 2012 to consider important revisions to ASTM D6866 (used by the U.S. BioPreferred program) Standard Test Methods for Determining the Biobased Content of Solid, Liquid, and Gaseous Samples Using Radiocarbon Analysis. A technical group will also be considering on a fast-track process a new specification for calculating and reporting biobased content of complex products.[2] ASTM would welcome the opportunity to establish deeper technical cooperation with CEN in this important area and would agree to have a CEN expert attend and participate in this important meeting.

Over the more long-term, CEN and ASTM cooperation should be more robust in two particular areas: 1) how standards could apply to non-homogeneous biobased products; and 2) greater collaboration on emerging analysis which includes nitrogen and oxygen. These two aspects could be discussed in a joint workshop with presentations from experts from both sides of the Atlantic. Workshop outputs could afterwards be introduced into the standardization work performed by ASTM in the US and CEN in Europe.

Exchange of Best Practices – It would be mutually beneficial to share on both sides what has and what has not worked in terms of helping grow the market for biobased products.

  • Government Initiatives – Procurement preference programs, consumer labels, online tools and training, knowledge is needed on what works and how government can play an effective role to expand this emerging market.
  • Awareness Training and Education – Exchanging information on ways to educate the public on the benefits and product properties of biobased products would be helpful. In the EU Bioeconomy strategy the EU calls for greater engagement of civil society to bridge the gap between science and society. The U.S. BioPreferred program has developed many training courses, tools, and other awareness mechanisms to reach out and engage both government officials and the public on the benefits of biobased products.

Increasing Linkages – And finally, establishing better links between the networks of farmers, researchers, and manufacturers in the U.S. with those in Europe can only increase innovation and growth in the biobased economy. Increasing linkages particularly between SMEs could be helpful. For example, the U.S. Presidential Memorandum speaks specifically to utilizing the U.S. Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP)[3] network to improve the performance and competitiveness of biobased product manufacturers. The US-EU Task Force on BioTechnology, as well as the Biocluster Network, can help leverage information and give a boost to this emerging global market.

[1] To achieve alignment in the requirements for addressing cadmium in toys, there was direct engagement and cooperation between ASTM Committee 15 and CEN TC 52 that led to important exchanges in sharing technical data and discussing common testing approaches that led to revisions of both ASTM F963 and EN71 toy standards. In the area of biofuels, experts from CEN TC 19 having a standing invitation and regularly attend ASTM Committee D02 meetings and make presentations that have led to more common attributes in standards, joint referencing, and mutual acceptance of test methods amongst the leading standards bodies ASTM, CEN, and ISO.

[2] For more information, see http://www.astm.org/DATABASE.CART/WORKITEMS/WK35315.htm.

[3] The U.S. Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) works with small and mid-sized U.S. manufacturers to help them create and retain jobs and increase profits. The nationwide network provides a variety of services, from innovation strategies to process improvements to green manufacturing. For more information, see www.nist.gov/mep.