One of the many joys about writing about the business of bio-based is learning more about the varied uses of feedstock. Before speaking to Gerald van Engelen and Harry Raaijmakers of agro-industrial cooperative Royal Cosun, who head up the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking’s (BBI JU's) demonstration project, PULP2VALUE, I would have said that sugar beet pulp, when added to hay, was a great Winter feedstock for horses, but would have struggled to name other uses. And yes, of the 13 million tonnes of sugar beet pulp produced in Europe a year, most of it does feed animals, act as a bio-fertilizer or is used in creating green fuel. But PULP2VALUE, based in Roosendaal, the Netherlands, aims to provide added value for producers of sugar beet pulp by creating processes that extract far higher value products from sugar beet side-streams.
Philippe Mengal, Executive Director of BBI JU on the project: “Pulp2Value is a great example of how the BBI JU programme is opening up opportunities for industry and primary producers through developing innovative ‘added value’ biorefinery processing techniques.”
The origins of the PULP2VALUE project, began in around 2008, when Royal Cosun was undertaking separate projects focussed on individual uses for sugar beet pulp. In 2013, the time came to move from lab scale to industrial pilot scale. During this scale up the possibility of integration was already taken into account.
Gerald van Engelen, General Manager at Cosun Biobased Products tells us more: “Here in the Netherlands, with our agricultural heritage and relative small size, we are uniquely placed to demonstrate an integrated and cost-effective bio-refinery to refine sugarbeet pulp, and extract much more value, perhaps between 20 and 50 times more from products derived from it.”
The PULP2VALUE project, which brings together a consortium that also includes Stichting Wageningen Research (Netherlands), Wageningen University (Netherlands), Orineo (Belgium), Nova-Institute (Germany), Bio base Europe pilot plant (Belgium) and Refresco Gerber (United Kingdom) is focussed on three high value products extracted from sugar beet sidestreams. The aim is to optimise, scale up and integrate processes for the three and at the same time build long lasting value chains for them.
The three products are microcellulose fibres (MCFs) - available for use in detergents, paints and coatings, composites and the oil and gas industry, arabinose (Ara) - flavours and food applications and galacturonic acid (GalA) - personal care and the chemical industry.
“For each of these products we have identified multiple product markets and are developing clear business cases But these can only be fully exploited by developing a full scale cascade biorefinery system and supplying industrial samples to the market. This required a substantial investment and where BBI JU’s contribution proved significant. Their support de-risked the project and has helped cover the CAPEX and OPEX, a very important contribution” continued Gerald.
As well as the business case, the project which launched in July 2015 and will run until June 2019, will also aid rural development in sugar beet growing areas by connecting them in new cross-sectorial value chains with chemical, food and other industries.
Of the three product demonstration plants to which the project is committed, the microcellulose fibres (MCF) is undergoing its final test runs ahead of being fully operational very soon, the arabinose is on schedule to be operational in the second half of 2018 with the strategy for the galacturonic acid now underway.
It’s a fantastic project, making full use of biomass that has not been fulfilling its potential and creating significant business opportunities, not mention environmental and societal benefits.
Gerald and Harry are both very experienced in the bio-based sector, and to conclude I ask for their advice to anyone just setting out in our industry.
“Stick to your strengths, conduct a full analysis of them, as well as your weaknesses and use this to judge where success can be made. In this industry there are so many possibilities, it can be overwhelming, so take time to choose the right ones” said Gerald.
Whilst for Harry; “Use nature’s functionality, by doing this, you’ll need as little conversion as possible. And as Gerald has said, nearly everything is possible, from a technical point of view, in our industry. So let the business case decide for you.”
For more on the PULP2VALUE Project visit www.bbi-europe.eu/projects/pulp2value or www.pulp2value.eu and team will also be attending the BBI JU Stakeholder Forum in Brussels on December 7th 2017
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