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Biobased Content Testing

A growing number of government directives mandate the use of sustainable resources whenever possible. These measures include congressional legislation, federal regulations and presidential executive orders. The USDA BioPreferred program establishes biobased content requirements for a number of product categories. Products that meet the BioPreferred requirements are deemed biobased products. Note that "biobased product" is thus a technical term meaning that the product meets criteria defined by the USDA.

Biobased products qualify for preferred federal procurement. With few exceptions, suppliers to the US government must deliver and make maximum use of biobased products in the performance of their contracts. This gives producers economic incentives to develop and use biobased products.

Product manufacturers can apply for USDA certification of their biobased products. Upon approval, the manufacturer is authorized to affix a "USDA Certified Biobased Product" label to their approved products. The presence of this label makes it easy for government personnel to identify products and services that meet the biobased procurement requirements. As part of the application process, the manufacturer must submit testing evidence of biobased content. Click here to view or download a sample report.

Biobased content testing is strictly about carbon. Carbon plays a major role in the composition of many products. Obvious examples like fuels, lubricants, and most plastics consist almost entirely of carbon compounds. But numerous other products, from carpet to laundry detergent to lipstick, also contain carbon. This carbon often comes from ancient geological sources such as petroleum, coal and natural gas deposits. Such petrochemical or "fossil" carbon developed from organisms that lived millions of years ago. Alternatively, the carbon may be derived from plant or animal material that was recently living. Such carbon is called "biobased" because it comes from renewable biological resources.

Perhaps surprisingly, biobased content is not the amount of biobased material in a product. Rather, it specifically means the biobased proportion of the organic carbon in the product. A product may contain a mere 1% organic carbon, but if all of that carbon is biobased, then the product's biobased content is 100%. If half of the organic carbon is biobased and the other half is from fossil resources, then the product is 50% biobased. Inorganic carbon (in the form of carbonates) is not considered in the analysis. Only the organic carbon counts.

biobased content = biobased carbon / total carbon x 100%

Accepted methods for determining biobased content are given in ASTM D6866. The procedures defined in this standard use radiocarbon analysis to determine biobased content. Biobased carbon contains a known abundance of radiocarbon, whereas fossil carbon has none. By measuring the radiocarbon in a product sample, its proportion of biobased carbon can be determined. As an established radiocarbon laboratory, Aeon is ideally equipped to analyze materials for biobased content.

These same test methods are used to determine the renewable carbon content of fuels, including biofuels and waste and composite fuels, for monitoring combustion exhaust emissions and stack effluents, ensuring compliance with regulations for greenhouse gases, for biogenic or "carbon neutral" CO2 reporting requirements, and for verification and testing in carbon credit, cap-and-trade and carbon offsetting programs.

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