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What is C14?

C14 or carbon-14 is the longest-lived radioactive isotope of carbon, whose decay allows the accurate dating of archaeological, geological and hydrogeological artifacts. C14 relates to the renewable carbon content of a material and can be directly measured using analytical tools. C14 can be used as an independently proven method to show progress on renewability as a steppingstone of eco-(re)design, based on life cycle thinking (LCA). C14 is not used as a direct environmental sustainability indicator.

How can the amount of C14 in an article be measured?

The radioactive isotope C14 can be directly measured using advanced analytical techniques such as accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) or Saturated Absorption Cavity Ring-Down (SCAR) Spectroscopy. Based on the outcome of the measurements the renewable carbon content of a product can be calculated taking into count that renewable carbon sources contain traces in the order of 1 part per trillion (ppt) of C14.

Examples of C14 in leather

The figure below shows comparisons of bio-based carbon (C14) contents measured on leathers with different wet end and finishing recipes (bio-based vs traditional petro-based, Royal Smit & Zoon internal data) and on various types of “bio-based alternative materials” (data extracted from S.Bartalini, F. Carcione, G. A. Defeo, I. Galli, D. Mazzotti, “Leather and Alternative Materials: A Novel Method for Bio-Based Carbon Quantification through Saturated-Absorption Cavity Ring-Down (SCAR) Spectroscopy”, Proceedings of the EURO IULTCS 2022, September 2022.)

The data presented in the figure clearly demonstrates the bio-based nature of leather. Even with the traditional petro-based wet end and finishing recipes, finished leather still presents a typical bio-based carbon content between 70-80%. This can be further optimized using bio-based recipes up to a range of 85-95%. In contrast, the claimed “bio-based alternative materials” typically presents bio-based carbon contents below 30%.

In short, C14…

  • relates to the renewable carbon content of a material.
  • can be directly measured using analytical tools.
  • alternatively, the renewable carbon content of a material can also be calculated given sufficient scientific and material knowledge.
  • is not used as a direct environmental sustainability indicator.
  • relates to certain impact categories of LCA: e.g. climate change, resource depletion. C14 can be used an independently proven method to show progress on renewability as a steppingstone of eco-(re)design based on life cycle thinking (LCA).

C14 can only be measured on organic material, so does not give a complete picture of the renewability of a material or product. Therefore Royal Smit & Zoon uses the mass-balance approach for products and C14 on leather. Note: on request of key customers we provide C14 on product level.

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