Collaborations underway to produce plant-derived chemicals and fuel

Amsterdam-headquartered AkzoNobel is working with Suiker Unie, Rabobank, Deloitte, Investment and Development Agency for the Northern Netherlands (NOM), Groningen Seaports, and the Province of Groningen, to assess the viability of using beet-derived sugar feedstock to produce chemicals.

Deloitte will 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.

Sugar beets are a major crop in the Netherlands, and producing high value products is believed to impact the whole value chain, consequently bolstering the regional economy.

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

In a related news, Belgium researchers are testing cellulose from sawdust to produce gasoline.

Researchers at KU Leuven’s Centre for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis, in Belgium, have successfully converted sawdust into building blocks for gasoline. Using a new chemical process, they were able to convert the cellulose in sawdust into hydrocarbon chains. These hydrocarbons can be used as an additive in gasoline, or as a component in plastics. The researchers reported their findings in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

Cellulose is the main substance in plant matter and is present in all non-edible plant parts of wood, straw, grass, cotton and old paper. The team has developed a new method to derive hydrocarbon chains from cellulose.

The European Commission’s FP7 Programme-funded research has a laboratory built and equipped with a chemical reactor where the scientists feed sawdust collected from a sawmill into the reactor, and a catalyst is added to set off and speed up the chemical reaction. With the right temperature and pressure, it takes about half a day to convert the cellulose in the wood shavings into saturated hydrocarbon chains, or alkanes. The result is an intermediary product that requires one last simple step to become fully-distilled gasoline.

The product can be used as a green additive – a replacement for a portion of traditionally-refined gasoline and for other applications. The green hydrocarbon can be used in the production of ethylene, propylene and benzene – the building blocks for plastic, rubber, insulation foam, nylon, and coatings.

The team sees the method as being useful in Europe, where crude oil is inadequate and shale gas cannot be easily produced.


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