Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
AkzoNobel and Partners Considering Sugar Beets as Renewable Chemical Feedstock

AkzoNobel has joined forces with SuikerUnie, Rabobank, Deloitte, Investment and Development Agency for the Northern Netherlands (NOM), Groningen Seaports, and the Province of Groningen to investigate the possibility of producing chemicals from beet-derived sugar feedstock.

The parties have asked Deloitte to perform a feasibility study to provide an independent critical review and economic assessment on the viability of several business cases for commercial production in the Delfzijl chemical cluster in the Netherlands.

Part of ongoing industry efforts to replace increasingly scarce non-renewable raw materials, the partnership could potentially lead to the synthesis of a range of chemicals in a cost-effective and sustainable manner.

It follows the recent publication of a report by Deloitte, which singles out the Netherlands as a cost leader in the production of sugar. The production of sugar beet is also expected to grow significantly due to impending de-regulation.

Siem Jansen, President of the Investment and Development Agency for the Northern Netherlands (NOM), said: "Sugar beets are a major crop, not only in the northern part of the Netherlands, but also across the border in Niedersachsen. New high-value products based on this crop will impact the whole value chain and could provide an important boost to the regional economy."

"We know that the Netherlands can produce ample volumes of sugar beet," explained Knut Schwalenberg, Managing Director of AkzoNobel Industrial Chemicals, who is also responsible for the company's Delfzijl activities. "We will now study how this can be used to create additional production and jobs in the Delfzijl area."

Added Marco Waas, Director of RD&I and Technology at AkzoNobel Industrial Chemicals: "We are always looking to use innovation to drive sustainable growth. The beauty of this project is that it's also a perfect fit with our own Planet Possible approach to developing new technologies that are less fossil-based and reduce our environmental footprint across the value chain."

The study will take roughly three months to complete and the partners expect to identify one or more successful business cases for commercial production in Delfzijl.

Finding renewable alternatives to petroleum-based chemical feedstocks is, by necessity, a growing area of R&D that is yielding organic replacements for a host of everyday materials:

  • Earlier this year, BASF unveiled a versatile, bio-based, high-performance polyamide called Ultramid® — which it says is well-suited for an array of applications including film, textile and carpet fiber; engineering plastics; and especially for the packaging sector — and is hard at work with Cargill and Novozymes on the development of an acrylic acid made from renewable raw materials, particularly superabsorbent polymers that can absorb and retain extremely large amounts of a liquid relative to their own mass, commonly found in products ranging from diapers and other hygiene products.
  • In June, a research project led by Biome Bioplastics demonstrated the feasibility of extracting organic chemicals from lignin — a complex hydrocarbon that helps to provide structural support in plants and trees — for the manufacture of bioplastics.
  • And in May, INVISTA, owner of the LYCRA® brand, introduced the first commercial offering of a bio-derived spandex. The company says approximately 70 percent by weight of the new fiber comes from a renewable source made from dextrose, derived from corn.
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