Kick off ChemBeet project

On Tuesday, March 10th the kick-off of the European project ChemBeet was held. At the meeting the project plans were presented to stakeholders from industry and press. Also, the project was placed in the recent context of developments in the EU sugar policy and the strongly growing interest of the chemical industry for the sugar beet as a raw material. For the province of Flevoland with its strong agricultural industry, the ChemBeet project marks an important perspective on development of the Biobased economy. Deputy Jan Nico Appelman addressed the participants stressing the importance of this innovation for his province and expressed its support for the initiative.

Efficient sugar
Dutch agriculture is particularly efficient in the production of sugar, based on high producing varieties and farmer’s professionalism as well as the efficiency of the value chain. Per hectare around 15 tons of sugar or more in the best cases can be produced and together with the high processing efficiency, this has led to very competitive cost prices for sugar. With the disappearance of the EU sugar policy, it is expected that the price for sugar beet will decrease and that the application of sugar beet for other purposes becomes within reach. Arjen Ravestein of Deloitte explained his analysis of the opportunities for the Dutch chemical industry based on sugar beet as raw material. Large chemical companies in the Netherlands are very interested in this product but - as also explained by Willem Sederel of Bio-renewables Business Platform - the chemical industry is not familiar with this raw material and the agricultural producers nor with possible price and availability fluctuations.

Hans van Klink of the company Dutch Sustainable Development gave a presentation on the Beta Process technology. This is a technique in which vacuum extrusion pre-treats liquid biomass by disclosing its cell contents in an energy efficient way. Thus, the biomass is readily accessible fir microorganisms such as fungi, bacteria and yeast in a fermentation process. Van Klink estimates the benefit of this pre-treatment at 10% compared to traditional techniques, like being used by the sugar industry. This improvement is important in order to make the price of the final fermentation product attractive. But that's not all. Also, the concept of direct processing in which the sugar beet pulp produced by the Betaprocess is directly fed to microorganisms may result in cost reduction.

Chris de Visser of ACRRES explained the ChemBeet project, which is partly financed by the ERA-NET Bio-energy joint programming. This project is to demonstrate that the concept of direct processing in combination with the Betaprocess technology will result in competitive green products on the basis of sugar beet for, among other things, the chemical industry. This will be realized through fermentation of sugars that depending on the microorganisms can be converted to a broad range of green raw materials. At first, bio-ethanol will be targeted but also additional organic acids will be studied, such as lactic acid. The ChemBeet project will demonstrate and proof the business case on a semi-commercial scale level so that further upscaling is possible.

The ChemBeet project profits from an existing pilot that is used and has been used to refine corn. Due to some adjustments, the processing of sugar beet is possible. Attendees were guided along the equipment and afterwards discussed and exchanged their views on the technology.