What are biomass-derived chemicals?

Bio-based products are products wholly or partly derived from biomass. Biomass-derived chemicals are defined as chemical products that are wholly or partly derived from materials of biological origin (for example biomasses, feedstock, but also plants, algae, crops, trees, marine organisms and biological waste).

Definitions and standards

  • Bio-based

    derived from biomass. The methods to determine and communicate "bio-based" as a characteristic are detailed in specific standards of CEN/TC 411.
  • Bio-based carbon/biogenic carbon

    carbon derived from biomass
  • Bio-based carbon content

    fraction of carbon derived from biomass in a product
  • Bio-based content

    fraction of a product that is derived from biomass
  • Bio-based product

    product wholly or partly derived from biomass
  • Bio-based drop-in chemicals

    bio-based versions of existing petrochemicals which have established markets. They are chemically identical to existing fossil-based chemicals.
  • Smart drop-in bio-based chemicals

    bio-based version of existing chemicals based on fossil hydrocarbons, but their bio-based pathways provide advantages compared to the conventional pathways. They are a special sub-group of crop-in chemicals.
  • Dedicated bio-based chemicals

    chemicals produced via a dedicated pathway that do not have an identical fossil-based counterpart
  • Biodegradation

    degradation caused by biological activities, especially by enzymatic action, leading to a significant change in the chemical structure of a material
  • Composting

    natural biological decomposition of organic material in the presence of air to form a humus-like material.
  • Biogenic

    produced by living organisms
  • Biomass

    material of biological origin excluding material embedded in geological formations and/or fossilized
  • Biorefinery

    facility that integrates biomass conversion processes and equipment to produce fuels, power and chemicals from biomass. The biorefinery concept is analogous to today's petroleum refineries, which produce multiple fuels and products from petroleum. Industrial biorefineries have been identified as the most promising route to the creation of anew domestic bio-based industry.


Industrial biotechnologies are a key enabler for the chemical sector as a whole, including biomass-derived chemistry.
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Facts and figures

Source: Knowledge Centre for Bioeconomy


Biomass-derived chemistry is instrumental to advancing the sustainability agenda. From the sourcing of feedstocks to the delivered products (building blocks, intermediates, platform chemicals, polymers, etc.), sustainability is at the core of biochemistry.
Biomass-derived chemistry has the potential to positively deliver on several of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), such as:
  • No poverty

    By valorizing biological feedstocks, notably from agriculture and forestry, the biomass-derived chemicals sectors contributes to maintaining rural livelihood, including in remote areas, and generating income for people and families whose living depends on land-use.
  • Good health and well being

    Investments in biotechnology and biochemical research have led to significant breakthroughs that benefit health and well-being. It ranges from pharmaceutical and medical solutions to reduction of pollution, notably by substituting potential harmful chemicals and materials.
  • Clean water and sanitation

    Biomass-derived chemicals' relevance to water quality and cleanness is at least twofold: one the one hand, the switch to bio-based substances and materials can reduce the amount of pollutants in water, on the other biomass-derived chemicals can be extracted from waste water treatment sludges.
  • Affordable and clean energy

    Biofuels, biogas and biokerosene are produced in chemical biorefineries and can either be used as fuels or as alternative to fossil fuels to produce intermediate chemicals. As such, they reduce the release of fossil carbon in the atmosphere.
  • Decent work and economic growth

    By innovating and exploring solutions for a better life, the biomass-derived chemicals sector is likely to grow and contribute to the economy as well as to the creation of direct and indirect quality jobs. Over 10 years (2008-2017), its up to 10,000 new jobs that have been created.
  • Industry, innovation and infrastructure

    The bioeconomy is an opportunity for large companies, but also SMEs and startups, to be competitive in Europe. As such it helps re-create an industrial base in Europe and, thanks to innovation, take the lead on global markets for novel drop-in and dedicated biomass-derived chemicals.
  • Responsible consumption and production

    The combination of biomass feedstocks and circularity (re-use, re/up-cycling, biodegradability/compostability) makes biomass-derived chemicals among the role-models of sustainable production and consumption with a high potential for waste reduction, material recirculation and climate change mitigation.
  • Climate action

    From the plant to the product, biomass-derived chemicals enable carbon dioxide absorption and storage as well as fossil emissions avoidance through substitution. Possibly combined with carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) in the future, biomass-derived chemistry might lead to "negative emissions".
  • Life below water

    The substitution of fossil materials with bio-based ones reduces the presence of long-to-degrade materials in marine environments (such as fossil-based plastics). At the same time, oceans and seas offer potential additional feedstocks for biomass-derived chemistry (e.g. algae).
  • Life on land

    Provided biomass from agriculture and forestry is sourced responsibly, the bioeconomy and bio-based products can positively impact life on land, on the one hand by encouraging good management practices that reconcile the supply of raw materials with biodiversity and soil protection, on the other by delivering products that have limited to no negative impact during their use or end-of-life stages.