Suiker Unie is going green

In recent years, Suiker Unie has reduced its carbon footprint significantly and (re)uses all the residues from all its sugar and sugar beet production processes. It is their ambition to become the greenest and most innovative sugar producer in the world. "Sustainability is in our DNA," says Corporate Social Responsibility and Communications Manager Andries Olie of Suiker Unie.

Most innovative

It is an ambitious goal to become the greenest and most innovative sugar producer in the world. Suiker Unie is well on its way. Since 1990, the company has produced 40% less CO2 per ton of sugar and energy consumption has fallen by nearly 50%. Beet growing has become substantially more efficient during that period and now needs 47% less land; down to advances in beet breeding and cultivation advice.

Closing the circle

Suiker Unie has found uses for all the residual flows that result from production. Examples of how they are ‘closing the circle’ include how the soil adhering to the raw beets is used for road construction and dyke reinforcement. And how beet dots and tails, which break down during the washing process, are fermented into green gas in the biomass digesters. This gas goes largely into the public gas network, but a part is used in the Suiker Unie’s production processes and as fuel for the transport of sugar to customers. Another side-product of fermentation, digestate, is rich in minerals and is returned to the beet fields.

120 Olympic swimming pools

Since sugar beet is 75% water, a great deal of ‘waste’ water is released during sugar production. Nowadays, this is purified and stored underground. "Our recovered water storage capacity is 300,000 cubic meters: enough to fill almost 120 Olympic swimming pools," says Andries Olie. “In the summer it is used as irrigation water by the surrounding greenhouse horticulture, the water from the sugar beet ending up in tomatoes and aubergines. A excellent example of collaboration, between Suiker Unie, the water research institute KWR and the Horticultural Development Company. ”

Animal feed and soil improver

And that's not all. The raw juice, which contains dissolved sugar from the beet strips, is purified with CO2 and lime, which binds the non-sugar into a substance they call Betacal, used as a soil improver. The beet pulp that remains after sugar-extraction is largely used as animal feed, with a small part being fermented. Finally, in addition to sugar, there is an amount of residual molasses, which finds a new life in the fermentation industry.

Innovations

Meanwhile, at the Cosun innovation center, (the main R&D center of Royal Cosun, the parent company of Suiker Unie), scientists are investigating possibilities for new biobased products from both unprocessed and residual plants. Betafib, for example, made from beet pulp, is a stabilizer that ensures the even distribution of fragrance capsules in detergent. Galacturonic acid, is a raw material for bioplastics production. And by an extraction process, a product called Rubisco is made from sugar beet tops. It can replace chicken-egg protein in food industry applications.

Green circles

By signing-up to the Green Circles Covenant, in April this year, Suiker Unie has begun a partnership with the province of Noord-Brabant and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center to make the sugar beet chain 100% circular. This will require a much greater focus on biodiversity and soil quality in beet cultivation, on using renewable energy wherever possible now while designing systems with renewable resources in mind, introducing sustainable packaging material and further greening the living environment and logistics. "Sustainability is in our DNA," says Andries Olie," and this collaboration will take us closer to our goal; to be a 100% circular business."

Suiker Unie is a member of Foodvalley NL. Sustainability was one of the topics at the Foodvalley Members Meeting on 21 May 2019, held at Suiker Unie.

Suiker Unie