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Suiker Unie working on biodegradable plastic

6 June 2012
Sugar beet are full of useful components: sugar and fibre for animal feed (pulp) are the best known. But there are also many other components that can be used in very specific applications. Beet residues can be converted into fatty acids, for example, that can in turn be processed into fully biodegradable bioplastics. We have the know-how, we just need the large-scale production facilities to put it into practice. To this end, Suiker Unie is working with other companies in Groningen in the innovative BioTRIP programme.
 
Suiker Unie extracts components from sugar beet and turns them into foodstuffs for people and animals, and returns as many of the residual minerals as possible back to the fields in order to close the mineral cycle. It has been doing so for decades but the beet contain many more valuable components. “There are fatty acids that can be extracted by bacteria that turn them into plastics," explains Bram Fetter of Suiker Unie. "The key differences from ordinary plastics are that they are not made from oil and they are completely biodegradable. So they are perfect for applications in which they do not need to be recovered but must not harm the environment at the end of their useful lives, such as temporary root membranes that cannot or do not need to be removed."
 
Suiker Unie knows how to process sugar beet so that all the components are put to good use. Its ambition is to extract fatty acids as the ideal feedstock for the bacteria, the "factories" that make bioplastics. To achieve this ambition it must work with partners that have complementary knowledge. In addition to investigating the economic feasibility, the programme includes producing this innovative material at a pilot factory.