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Green chemistry for raw material extraction
Plants are also becoming increasingly interesting as raw material suppliers for chemistry. Especially those that are already grown on a large scale and very efficiently. This applies in full to the sugar beet, the cultivation of which has been optimized over decades.
In order to optimize the processing of beet sugar for the production of chemical substances as well, scientists from the University of Wageningen and a research consortium have made the conversion of sugar cheaper and faster using a special process. For this purpose, the so-called »vacuum extrusion« is used, in which the cell walls literally explode and quickly release the sugar contained in the cell. The focus is no longer on the production of sugar crystals, but rather on the implementation of the sugar in the fermentation process in order to obtain ethanol or acetone, for example.
In order to obtain maximum yield, the microorganisms must be able to start working as quickly as possible. Advantages of the process are that the entire beet can be used, that no long pre-processing is necessary and that the process does not require high temperatures or increased pressure conditions. That saves time and energy. All of this succeeded on a laboratory scale, but there are still hurdles when switching to the large fermenter in the university facility, the scientists say. Among other things, one still struggles with the high viscosity of the mass to be processed, but such "bottle necks" are not insurmountable.
Future-proof processes for green chemistry therefore seem to be on the advance. How to evaluate this in competition with food production is another matter.
Friederike Heidenhof, aid