Beet pulp as feedstock for chemical industry

Suiker Unie Dinteloord

Cosun – the parent company for Aviko and Suiker Unie – is developing new products from traditional crops, products that are not always intended for human consumption. Suddenly new customers such as AkzoNobel, DSM and even Philips come to light.

Scheduled to open its doors in the spring of 2017, the ‘Cosun Food Technology Centre’ is being constructed in Dinteloord, a 15 million euro investment. The research center is intended to stimulate developments in the biobased economy.  In other words the center develops new products from organic residual materials, such as sugar beets. In the Netherlands, these are almost exclusively processed by Cosun.

Collaboration with other companies

The R&D complex will house over one-hundred employees. There will be laboratories and a factory for trails to test various processes and products at the customer’s request. Collaboration will be sought with various other companies, such as chemical companies. Amongst others, these are companies such as Akzo, Avantium and Philips. A collaboration agreement has been signed with Akzo for the development of new products from the cellulose byproducts from sugar beets.

Repurposing beet pulp

Most of the research is aimed at repurposing beet pulp. When the sugar is harvested from the beets, organic material remains. The residual flow is increasing, as Cosun produces more and more sugar. The new research center will house laboratories and a testing factory. Cosun has been successfully researching the repurposing possibilities for over ten years.

Betafib, microfibers from pulp are already being produced, just as 100% natural biopolymer. This can be used in fabric softeners but also in concrete. The new microfiber is produced in a testing factory in Roosendaal. Cosun states that this is a proven technology that will be introduced to the foreign markets soon. Another material that Cosun has produced through the application of new techniques is CMI. It is a material that is gained from chicory (a tuberous crop) and is biodegradable. CMI prevents calcic and saline tarnish in installations.

Production improvements

The innovation policy has a second pillar. In addition to research to optimize the use of residual materials such as beet pulp, Cosun also aims to optimize their production in various ways. The corporation welcomes the use of sensors, drones, gps-systems and data analysis; so-called precision agriculture. One takeover had a major impact on the sector: the Climate Corporation by Monsanto. Climate Corporation is an American research center that collects digital data in the areas of weather, soil and crops. It advises farmers on the efficient use of fertilizer, pesticides, seeds and water. Monsanto was willing to pay $1 billion for the company. A personalized cultivation program should structurally increase the gain per hectare, as of the 2018 harvest all arable farmers must collect data. Another agro-chemical company, Bayer, would also enter this growth market. It purchased the German start-up ProPlant, a company similar to Climate Corporation.

Cosun is still developing their own agro-data strategy.

Data collection

The corporation Cosun has been collecting relevant data from thousands of affiliated arable farmers. It operates its own cultivation and advisory program, Unitip, which aims to structurally increase the profit per hectare. Via Unitip Cosun collects the cultivation data and combines those with soil maps and further information from other sources.

According to Cosun there is room for production improvements. ‘On average, one hectare arable land can produce eighteen ton sugar. Four ton of which is lost due to disease and plagues. That needs to be improved. Our aim is to increase our gain by two ton sugar per hectare.’ In the 2016 campaign approximately 30% of the growers participated in the Unitip-project. Participating in the monitoring system is voluntarily at this time, but as of the 2018 harvest 100% of the farmers will participate. The collection of data will be mandatory for everybody then. It will lead to a higher profit and a more sustainable harvest. Through a good reporting system we will also meet with the approval marks for sustainability. In the future we will be able to inform our customers exactly which variety was used, which protection products were used and what the impact on the environment is. We can then show how sustainable a product is.’

 

source: Financieel Dagblad