Sustainability is at the heart of the CHAMPION project, which aims to replace conventional polymers with novel bio-based polymers for their application in coatings, textiles, home care uses and structural adhesives. But views on what sustainability means exactly, vary widely. Project partners nova-Institute and SQ Consult defined a strategy in which sustainability guides the decision-making process for selecting suitable CHAMPION polymers.
The main aim of the sustainability assessment within the project is to guide the process development. The strategy starts with a checklist summarising important sustainability aspects for the synthesis and processing of polymers. These aspects, including common principles of green chemistry, have to be taken into consideration by project partners during the first steps of development. In the next step, quantitative indicators are gathered in a techno-economic evaluation (TEE) – how much it would cost - and the life cycle assessment (LCA) of selected candidates – what the environmental impact would be. These indicators include, for example, the economics, greenhouse gas emissions, and biomass utilisation efficiency. This initial assessment results in a further selection of suitable polymers and additionally in the identification of key factors potentially influencing sustainability once their development reaches a higher maturity level. Examples of such factors include establishing feedstock suppliers, determining target applications, establishing a commercially viable production, and consumer acceptance. Assessment results will then be used to identify which project partners and stakeholders should come together to address potential challenges. For example, by identifying opportunities to establish appropriate supply chains for new materials, to contribute to market uptake and consumer acceptance and to support other activities from the project on policy recommendations, regulatory framework, eco-labelling possibilities, etc.
At the end of the project, a detailed sustainability assessment of the most promising CHAMPION polymers will be carried out following a set of criteria covering the three pillars of sustainability. The selection of criteria follows various acknowledged standards and methodologies such as the EN 16751:2016, VDI 4605 and takes into account key circularity indicators. The detailed assessment provides key points to follow for a comprehensive analysis: various areas are supported by quantitative indicators provided within the project, and other areas require a more qualitative analysis. Moreover, the assessment will present discussions and recommendations describing all actions undertaken in the project pursuing sustainability. It will also identify potential problems that may arise in future process development and suggest recommendations wherever possible.
Several CHAMPION activities support the sustainability goals directly during the project, including replacing fossil-based starting materials with bio-based ones and targeting circular polymers. Nevertheless, sustainability is highly dependent on establishing appropriate supply chains for sustainable input materials, so that it is possible to meet future demand, once CHAMPION polymers reach a higher maturity level. This strategy aspires to reflect this complex multi-criteria analysis by tackling sustainability from the beginning of the development.