The Unbeatable Beet: Biorefining Of Sugar Beet Pulp

R. Nolles, F. Staps, G. van Engelen
Cosun Biobased Products,
United States

Keywords: biorefining, sugar beet, arabinose, microcellulose fibers, galacturonic acid


ABSTRACT (max. 500 words) Introduction There are many definitions of biorefining, like the one provided by the US Department of Energy in 1997 “A biorefinery is an overall concept of a processing plant where biomass feedstocks are converted and extracted into a spectrum of valuable products”. Despite of growing awareness the urge for major changes in the manufacturing chains, thereby offering openings for biorefineries, the rise of this new industry branch remains a challenge. Challenges While R&D activities have created the potential and basis for a technology push, there is limited market pull to propel an actual biorefining industry. There are a number of reasons for the current situation: • Regulations, e.g. renewable energy acts that favor subsidization of bioenergy thus distorting market prices. • Bio-based products need to compete with well-established fossil-based value chains (i.e. amortized infrastructures; economies of scale; well-developed markets and market positions). • Lack of incentives: companies and consumers decide mostly on economic criteria. • And last but not least, there’s a regional factor to be taken into account: crops vary per region and therefore cost of logistics and varying feedstocks may hinder large scale exploitation. Biorefining at Royal Cosun Despite the abovementioned challenges Royal Cosun is committed to the biobased economy. We feel that biorefining is the way forward and therefore Royal Cosun decided to invest in an integrated and cost-effective cascading biorefinery to refine sugar beet pulp and isolate high value components for use in a great variety of end products including detergents, paints, coatings and composites but also for applications in the personal care, oil and gas industry. Our overall objective is to establish the value chains based on microcellulose fibers, arabinose and galacturonic acid (approximately 65% of the mass of sugar beet pulp) in high value markets. Regional factors have been taken into account since sugar beets are grown on large scale in the area surrounding the biorefinery. Sugar beet pulp is a major residual stream from the sugar beet industry. It accounts for approx. 13 million tons annually in Europe and is currently valorized as low value feed and/or green gas. Biobased products portfolio First generation products include carboxymethyl inulin, microcellulosic fibers, arabinose, galacturonic acid and powdered sugar beet pulp: • Carboxymethyl inulin is used as an antiscalant with existing applications in detergents, oil field and water treatment. • Our patented microcellulosic fibers show unique structuring and particle carrying properties in for instance laundry detergents and oil drilling fluids. • Arabinose is a novel health food ingredient that reduces the glycemic index and insulin response of sucrose. Moreover, arabinose is an intermediate for synthesis of flavors and surfactants. • Powdered sugar beet pulp shows remarkable water binding properties and is used as a tableting aid. Royal Cosun has started manufacturing or is in the process of setting up manufacturing for these first generation biobased products. Our intended second generation biobased products include galactaric acid, surfactants and complex chemical building blocks for engineering plastics.