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First generation fermentable sugars have an unjustifiably bad reputation as a feedstock for the chemical industry, the nova Institute states after an intensive research of various biobased raw materials.
Editorial office / Hürth

First generation sugars are often based on food crops, such as sugar cane and sugar beet, wheat, corn or soy. As a result, it is claimed that their use in the chemical industry competes with food production. The nova Institute did not find any indication for this. Second generation sugars are extracted from wood, inedible plant remains, used frying oils or residual waste.

Twelve criteria

The study selected 12 main criteria to assess the sustainability of first and second generation fermentable sugars, such as greenhouse gas balance, greenhouse gas reductions, land efficiency, food security, protein byproducts, employment, rural development, livelihoods of farmers and forest workers, direct and indirect risks of change in land use (LUC / iLUC), logistics, infrastructure, availability, traceability, social effects, biodiversity as well as air and soil quality.

The analysis shows that all raw materials lead to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Sugars of the second generation perform better in this respect, but due to the high extraction costs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions with second-generation sugars is an expensive way to reduce climate change.

Food security

Special attention was paid to the accusation that the use of raw materials from the first generation would jeopardize food security. That does not appear to be the case. The findings from this study point in the opposite direction. In this way, competition in land use will be achieved by the very efficient cultivation of agricultural crops of the first generation (especially sugar beet); the yield per hectare is high. In addition, crops like wheat and corn often offer protein-rich by-products that can be uses, for example, for animal feed. For the cultivation of rotating energy crops such as coppice, a much larger breeding area is required, while this does not yield additional protein by-products. This leads to much more competition with food production.

Waste and residual materials

The main strength of the use of waste and residual materials for the production of second generation fermentable sugars lies in the highest reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of all compared raw materials and in the lowest impact on biodiversity, water, air and soil. The main disadvantages are the high costs for the reduction of greenhouse gases, poorly developed infrastructure and logistics, low traceability and, above all, limited availability.

The nova Institute therefore concludes that biobased chemicals from all raw materials offer certain advantages in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They should all be part of a strategy for a sustainable future for the European chemical industry. The systematic discrimination of first-generation sugars in public perception and in the debate is in no way scientifically justified.