Read on
‘We will be satisfied if at the end of 2015 the entire business case for the Betaprocess technology has been calculated and we can put the concept on the market commercially.’ These are the words of Hans van Klink from Dutch Sustainable Development B.V. (DSD).
Edwin van Gastel

Betaprocess is the technology patented by DSD in which the hydrolysis phase preceding the digestion processes is significantly shortened. The technology makes it possible for the first time to process a sugar beet in its entirety, the so-called “direct processing” technology. ‘Direct processing ensures an acceleration and higher efficiency of the total digestion process,’ explains Van Klink. ‘Eventually it results in higher yields and improves profitability. Betaprocess is not a digester here, but a so-called pre-process installation. Application of this technology results in ten percent more gas yield and a little higher percentage of methane as well. Not only can you use this technology for biogas production, but also for the production of ethanol. It has been tested and proved that the Betaprocess technology works successfully with sugar beets and that you really do obtain more ethanol. The reason for this is that the entire sugar beet is digested and you do not have to add any enzymes.’

Test plant

Last December Betaprocess made the news when it was awarded the subsidy from the European Union for the ChemBeet innovation project. The so-called ERANET subsidy of 550,000 euros is the result of an arrangement for market-ripe biobased innovations focusing on international collaboration and the use of biomass for energy and biorefining applications. With this subsidy the concept of the direct processing of sugar beet for the production of bio-ethanol is presented on a pilot scale.

‘At ChemBeet, ACRRES, a Wageningen UR initiative, has joined us to study how refining of sugar beets can be optimised via the concept of direct processing,’ Van Klink points out. ‘This takes place in the refining test plant in Lelystad. A test plant for processing corn has already been built there. A considerable part of this installation can also be used for sugar beet refining. The combination of several raw materials makes it even more interesting to develop a year-round refining process. The setup is currently being adapted so that we can start up the pilot production.’

Competitive cost price

In the pilot production, sugar beet will be used as the raw material in the first few months, but in order to develop the abovementioned year-round refining process, tests will also be carried out this year with corn and residues from the fruit and potato processing industry. Van Klink: ‘That way we at ChemBeet can study which products yield the best result. We know the potential of sugar beets, as also demonstrated in a study by Deloitte, but we do not yet know enough about the other crops. Initial calculations show that our process will have a cost price that can compete with plants in the US and Brazil. Particulars will be verified in practice at ChemBeet. Once the entire plant configuration has been mapped, we can present customers with the financial model and sell them the concept.’

If the year-round process turns out to be feasible, Van Klink thinks that it will be unprecedentedly positive for this business case. After all, the sugar beet is only available for one hundred fifty to two hundred days per year, which leaves at least 165 days on which the plants would otherwise be idle. ‘Thus we at ChemBeet are looking at products that naturally contain a lot of sugars. Treatment with our system can open them up in order to thereby produce ethanol directly. We will be satisfied if at the end of 2015 the entire business case has been calculated and we can put the concept on the market commercially. It is still difficult to say how many plants can eventually be built. It is certain, however, that this will involve relatively small plants which process seven hundred and fifty to a thousand tonnes per day. In the case of sugar beets you are talking about a product flow that will have to be delivered from a five to ten kilometre radius round the plant. This will save considerably on transport costs, among other things, as farmers will be able to take their products to the plant themselves with the tractor and trailer. Thus the production will actually be “local for local”.’


A still unmentioned possibility is to make the direct processing system entirely cradle-to-cradle. Van Klink: ‘The Polish university participating in the ChemBeet project has technology available to use the residue flows of sugar beets, created after fermentation and distillation and consisting of water and CO2 flows, for the production of algae. The water and CO2 flows are of such a nutritious nature that you can turn them into an additional product in the form of algae. If we start continuous production in September, this process will also be tested in practice.’

And the competition? If Van Klink has to benchmark the Betaprocess technology with other technologies, he does not immediately envision any big challengers. ‘Because everything is still in its infancy in other technologies,’ according to Van Klink. ‘Thus you cannot right away talk about competition. No matter what, we think that we will be more attractive than any possible competitors as far as cost price is concerned. We do not have to add extra enzymes to our process because we already open up the cells of the sugar beet quite far. That is to say, fibres, cell walls and cellular membranes are opened up so that as many sugars as possible are available for fermentation; thus the lower cost price.’


However, if Van Klink does have to indicate one competitor, it is the DSM-POET consortium. ‘In contrast to us, they focus on large scale production facilities with other types of organic material. Our process for processing sugar beets is attractive to the farmer precisely because it is small-scale. The potential of small-scale biorefining methods, such as the DSD concept for direct processing of sugar beets for bio-ethanol could be very important to the Netherlands. Thirty to forty small-scale plants could be installed (source: WUR 2015 report on small-scale biorefinery). Furthermore, the sugar beet is a tremendously important crop in the framework of crop rotation (note from the editor: many plant diseases can be prevented by proper crop rotation since they occur specifically in a certain plant family). In countries that stopped beet cultivation the yield of the crops that remain is considerably lower. Altogether, the sugar beet is a very important product in many ways. In light of the cancellation of the sugar market regulation (editor’s note: the EU has agreed with the World Trade Organisation to export a maximum of 1.3 million tonnes of sugar annually until September 2017), there are big opportunities for sugar beet production.’