Sugar agenda: a dot on the horizon for green chemistry

Sugar agenda: a dot on the horizon for green chemistry

The Chemport Europe "Saccharide Agenda" (Sugar Agenda) provides a roadmap for the development of a green chemical production chain in the Northern Netherlands in the period up to 2050.

The use of sugar instead of fossil oil as a feedstock for the chemical industry offers enormous potential. In the Chemport ecosystem, the entire chain is present from agriculture through basic organic chemicals and intermediates to the final product. But many links in the chain are still developing and a concerted effort is needed in Research & Development, scale-up, regulation and subsidies. The steps described by the Agenda will keep stakeholders on track and help maintain progress and enthusiasm.

Sugar agenda: a dot on the horizon for green chemistry

Theo Smit, a consultant with E&E Advies, oversaw the process that led to the Sugar Agenda, presented Sept. 21. He is also one of the authors. "In the region, people felt the need to have a roadmap for the development of green chemistry in the northern Netherlands," he says. The region has a lot of agricultural land, a thriving chemical industry clustered mainly in Delfzijl and Emmen, and a strong knowledge infrastructure with the RUG, NHL Stenden and Hanzehogeschool. 'There is also the Eemshaven as a logistics hub and the manufacturing industry that converts chemicals into products, such as plastic bottles.'

Smit notes that many of the existing chemical companies in the Chemport region work primarily with fossil feedstocks. 'They need a new, green alternative. On the other hand, you have Cosun Beet Company making sugar, and there are other sources of renewable carbon.' Using sugars as feedstock can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the chemical industry. Currently, about 20 percent of fossil oil is used as feedstock for chemicals.

Policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gases focus primarily on energy. 'Both government support and regulations are mostly about green energy, with little focus on green chemistry,' The Sugar Agenda shows the value of a concerted effort to increase the use of green carbon, including with respect to jobs. Subsidies will be needed in the early stages to make green carbon competitive, while regulatory roadblocks must be removed. For example, when sugar is extracted from biomass, a residue remains. Current regulations make it difficult to use this nutrient-filled material as fertilizer in agriculture. Therefore, it must be disposed of as waste for a fee.

It's a problem that Bram Fetter, Chief Operations Officer at Cosun Beet Company knows all too well. 'We are primarily a producer of green carbon molecules, but our policy focuses on the entire production chain. We cooperate with parties further down the chain, enter into joint ventures or help others draw up a business plan.'

Sugar agenda: a dot on the horizon for green chemistry

His company, together with Avantium (a pioneer in renewable and sustainable chemistry) and chemical company Nouryon, has provided valuable input to the Sugar Agenda. 'All three of us are active in the Northern Netherlands but also beyond,' says Fetter. 'The knowledge needed for green chemistry is being developed on a global scale. However, the Chemport region does have a large number of parties in the green chemistry chain.' The Agenda helps them follow a common course and gives them a dot on the horizon. 'You don't get to that goal with just big companies. We need the creative input of startups and other innovative companies.'

The horizon is in the year 2050. But what steps are needed to get there? In addition to regulation and support, new technology is needed. Moreover, the amount of green carbon the region produces is not enough if green chemistry is really going to grow, Smit explains: 'There will be enough for the next few years, but eventually we will have to import biomass.' Fetter: 'In addition, we also need to look beyond beet sugar, for example to sugars from potato starch.' Biomass waste is also a possible source; Avantium now has a bio-refinery test plant in Delfzijl, which makes sugar from wood chips.

In the short term, Fetter expects one or two production plants to enter the green chemistry chain. 'You need an initial success like that to build on. I see a lot of enthusiasm now, and we need to keep up the positive energy that is currently driving the development of green chemistry in this region.

About Chemport Europe

Chemport Europe is cooperation between companies, knowledge institutions and governments. It brings parties committed to green chemistry in the North closer together, supports them and makes them visible. The goal is to achieve a sustainable, CO2-neutral chemical industry, and to maintain and even develop activity and
employment and even to expand them. Chemport Europe initiates projects, such as the Sugar Agenda or Chemport Connect, and ensures their implementation by the parties involved in the region.