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Fermentable sugar as raw material for chemical industry

New study conducts quantitative and qualitative sustainability assessment of bio-based raw materials for chemical industry

Twelve main criteria were selected to assess the sustainability of 1st and 2nd generation fermentable sugars. Because of the persistent accusation that the use of first-generation raw materials endangers food security, special attention was given to this particular criterion. The analysis of the twelve different sustainability criteria shows that all examined raw materials display strengths in terms of sustainability, but also weaknesses. All raw materials lead to a considerable reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Although 2nd generation sugars perform better in this regard, the advantage is clearly put into perspective if it is offset against abatement costs. Reducing GHG emissions with 2nd generation sugars is a comparatively expensive way to mitigate climate change.
Considering the often criticized aspect that the use of first generation raw materials has negative effects on food security, the findings actually point in exactly the opposite direction. Competition for arable land is offset by the excellent land-use efficiency of first-generation agricultural crops (especially sugar beet) and the presence of protein-rich by-products (especially wheat and maize). In this context, the use of short-rotation coppice (SRC) for sugar production represents much greater competition for arable land, since the same sugar yield requires a larger cultivation area and provides no additional protein by-products.
The results show that the systematic discrimination of first-generation sugars in public perception and debate is not scientifically justifiable. On the way to a climate-friendly Europe, bio-based chemicals from all raw materials offer advantages in terms of reducing GHG emissions and should equally be part of a sustainable future strategy for the European chemical industry.
The report analyses the strengths and weaknesses of all available raw materials for the production of bio-based chemicals.
Read the results in the study, which can be freely downloaded here.