Plant-Based Leaders | Beta Analytic

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For this edition of Plant-Based Leaders, we interviewed the team at Beta Analytic, which offers biobased content testing and analysis for products in the plant-based industry and other sectors. We spoke with Florencia Goren, Chief Revenue Officer, and Haley Gershon, Marketing Manager.

Florencia Goren, Chief Revenue Officer, Beta Analytic
Florencia Goren, Chief Revenue Officer, Beta Analytic
Haley Gershon, Marketing Manager, Beta Analytic
Haley Gershon, Marketing Manager, Beta Analytic

Tell us a bit about the origin of BETA Analytic.

Beta Analytic Carbon 14 testing

FLORENCIA: The company started in 1979 as a radiocarbon lab for the University of Miami. We began primarily working in archaeology, geology, and hydrology fields, with radiocarbon dating, also known as Carbon-14 analysis. As we became more commercial, we moved off campus as an independent company, and we’ve been here in South Florida ever since. We are the leading international ISO 17025-accredited Carbon-14 laboratory in terms of capacity and expertise.

What industries do you work in today?

HALEY: We are involved in multiple industries and perform carbon-14 testing on a wide range of products and material types for biobased, biogenic, and naturally-sourced analyses. Biobased testing is applicable to several product types including cosmetic and personal care items, household cleaning products, packaging, and intermediate chemicals. Our natural ingredient testing is applicable to food ingredients, essential oils, flavors, fragrances, and supplements. Carbon-14 analysis is also used for biogenic testing of CO2 emissions from cement plants and waste-to-energy facilities, for example, in addition to testing biofuel blends, co-processed fuels, and hydrocarbon gases.

When did USDA contact you about measuring the plant-based products that are created by our PBPC members?

FLORENCIA: We were approached by the USDA and Iowa State University in the early 2000s to create a standard to measure biobased content using Carbon-14 analysis. They wanted to establish a certification label for biobased content that would include direct biobased content analysis on the raw materials and final products that applied. Together, under the ASTM Committee on Plastics, the USDA, Beta and Iowa State co-developed the first Carbon-14 standard for measuring biobased content, ASTM D6866, which is the current standard used for the USDA BioPreferred Program.

Describe your lab and what happens there.

FLORENCIA: We’re a private lab based in Miami, Florida. We perform the entire process in-house, from the chemistry to the accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) analysis. We have several AMS instruments in our main laboratory which gives us virtually unlimited capacity. Our lab consists of highly-trained and specialized laboratory professionals.

As far as the process, we receive a sample for analysis and convert the material into graphite, the purest form of carbon. Then the graphite powder is loaded into an AMS, also known as a particle accelerator. The AMS is the instrument that counts the carbon-14 isotopes. So, when a graphite target is inserted the AMS splits the isotopes, isolating the Carbon-14 from the Carbon-13 and Carbon-12, and we count the Carbon-14. Once we process the data from the AMS, we use ASTM reference values and calculate the percentage of biobased content. Our test results are reported as a percentage (%) of biobased carbon.

How has your work with USDA and BioPreferred grown or changed since they first approached you?

FLORENCIA: We’ve been one of their testing partners since the inception of the program. It’s very well established and incredibly successful. Today, there are over 5,000 certified products. The program has expanded to 139 product categories from intermediate chemicals to cutlery, packaging, construction material, lubricants, and more. We have witnessed this boom in biobased products, and we expect it to continue to grow, both in total size and in the number of product categories available.

Describe the importance of the USDA BioPreferred Program to the broader plant-based industry.

FLORENCIA: We believe BioPreferred was the first to come up with such a certification program globally. It began as an issue of energy security, working to lessen dependence on foreign fossil fuels and promote the use of feedstocks here in the US, therefore helping the US economy. Now the sustainability factor has taken primary focus – after all biobased products are a way to reduce the introduction of new CO2 to the atmosphere and many serve as a form of CO2 sequestration.

USDA BioPreferred program sample label
Sample label of USDA’s BioPreferred Program

HALEY: The program is a crucial means to educate consumers – it allows the amount of biobased content that comprises different products to be visibly displayed on product labels, helping to build consumers’ trust. Through this work and other efforts, USDA aims to spur the economic development of the biobased industry.

Tell us about some of the other standards and certifications that have evolved and your participation?

FLORENCIA: Since the USDA created its certification program, many countries have developed different biobased certifications. Aside from the USDA BioPreferred Program, there are several other programs in the US including the CertiPUR-US® Program which was developed for certifying biobased foam products. Additionally, Europe has multiple programs like the TUV AUSTRIA OK biobased Program and DIN CERTCO DIN-Geprüft Biobased program. Furthermore, the Braskem I’m Green™ Seal developed in Brazil identifies products that contain the Braskem green plastic in their composition. There are also several certification programs in Asia including the Japan BioPlastics Association BiomassPla, Korea Bio Material Packaging Association’s Biobased Label (BP Label), and the Taiwanese “Green Mark” for plastic products. Other certifications continue to come into play, including the BIOPRODUCTO ARGENTINO Seal, adopted this year in Argentina.

HALEY: The USDA started this movement and the beauty of the USDA program is that it is free to apply. Companies only have to pay for the test itself. We see products coming in from all over the world to get the BioPreferred certification. In addition to using biobased testing to qualify for certifications, products are submitted to our lab for other purposes as well such as to comply with regulatory initiatives, to validate biobased claims, and to use precise % biobased carbon results in marketing strategies and R&D when aiming to optimize the use of biobased content while phasing out the use of fossil fuel-derived material.

FLORENCIA: In regards to the standards, we participate in almost every standard body as technical advisors. Our main concern is global uniformity for biobased content analysis with Carbon-14. That’s why we try to be proactive in participation. We bring more than 40 years of experience and an understanding of the nuances that others on these decision-making committees may not have. Having incompatible standards for the same concept in one country can put them at a disadvantage when trying to insert products in a global market, so we put a lot of emphasis on cross-border uniformity, this makes it easier for manufacturers.

You’re helping companies support their sustainability claims. Can you speak to the importance of transparency to help avoid greenwashing?

FLORENCIA: We help companies back up their biobased claims, which is tied to their sustainability goals. One of the most powerful things about C-14 is that it’s a direct measurement – there’s no way to cheat it. That’s important for greenwashing prevention. Testing also reduces any sort of problem with adulteration, which we see in other industries like supplements, essential oils, and flavorings. Regardless of industry, though, companies want to be sure that the raw materials they receive match the suppliers’ claims. Our testing does that. It’s key to verify biobased content claims, especially if you are planning to make end product declarations, you want to protect your brand.

HALEY: And the more we continue to evolve into a greener economy, the more backing up claims is going to be essential, especially with green guides coming out all over the world due to growing concerns of greenwashing.

Are there economic advantages to testing?

FLORENCIA: There’s a huge economic advantage here. Our tests are a drop in the bucket compared to the overall price of developing a product. Some companies may see tax breaks or preferential contracts because of their biobased content offerings. It’s really a no-brainer. It guarantees transparency and it protects you from mislabeling. At the end of the day, companies see significant benefits.

What should a company expect when they test a product?

FLORENCIA: Once we receive an inquiry we need to know if they are doing testing for a certification program or not. If so, then the company needs to first apply through that certification program so their test results will be considered valid. Each certification program has its own process but essentially you apply to the program, and then the certifying body will provide a list of C-14 labs qualified for testing.

The process with BETA is simple. You tell us the material type. We tell you the sample size we need, usually 20 grams or less for solids and a few milliliters for liquids. If you are subsampling, it must be representative of the entire product. Some certification programs handle that aspect.

HALEY: Each client is paired with an account manager in their region who provides them with multilingual customer support to assist throughout the process. Once a client fills out BETA’s online submission forms and sends the sample to our lab, we can complete the analysis and provide results in seven business days or less, regardless of the type of material.

What types of companies are using your testing?

HALEY: We see lots of suppliers of raw materials, like bio resins. But clients also include manufacturers and distributors testing both the raw materials they receive and validating the percentage that is biobased in their own finished products. Some companies test in their research and development phase, optimizing the use of biobased material or while working to phase out fossil-derived material. We’ve worked with personal care and cosmetic companies like Inolex and Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company, apparel manufacturers like Reebok, household and personal care product companies such as Greenology Products, and biobased intermediates manufacturers like Braskem.

You’re a relatively new member of PBPC, what are your early impressions?

FLORENCIA: PBPC does the important work of bringing companies in the industry to a single platform, where they can share anything from innovation, testing, and certifications. As members of PBPC, we have the opportunity to educate our fellow members on the importance of testing, while our membership on the policy committee has been a great way to keep up to date with the industry.

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