Sugarcane Hydrolysis Products
The juice and residues from sugarcane processing have the potential to generate products other
than sucrose that are inherently valuable: xylose (C5), glucose (C6), and lignin predominately, as
well as microcrystalline cellulose and hemicellulose. The indicative value of these hydrolysis
products are listed in Table 1.
Table 1: Lignocellulosic breakdown products: indicative value;
Price is dependent on the purity or grade of the product. Sources: online catalogs1.
|Hydrolysis product||Value US$/tonne|
|High purity xylose||$4,500 to $20,000 (1)|
|Microcrystalline cellulose (MCC)||$3000 to $4,000 (2)|
|High purity glucose||$400-600 (powder);$450-790 (liquid glucose) (3)|
|Lignin||$1700-1860 to as high as|
Lignin can be burned to meet the energy requirement of the biorefinery and/or valorized to make
fuels (ethanol, biodiesel, aviation fuel) and industrial chemicals 2, 3. The global lignin market is
expected to reach US$6.2 billion by 2022, based on the high market potential for lignin as a key
intermediate to manufacturing carbon fibres, phenol, BTX and vanillin. Production of lignin
exceeded 1.1 million tons in 2013 and was dominated by manufacturing in Europe and North
America (over 35% of global demand volume each). Increasing R&D for development of lignin use
in untapped applications is anticipated to provide new opportunities in biomaterials and biobased
chemicals for market growth 4, although applications for lignin as a feedstock for the manufacture of
other industrial products is determined by the purity and integrity of the lignin.
The opportunity for biobased manufacture based on renewable feedstocks continues to expand to
include a widening array of biomaterials, chemicals, fuels, and solvents, of application within global
industries from automotive and aviation through agriculture and pharmaceuticals to food,
beverages and cosmetics.
Many industrial groups, corporations and governments, including the US, the EU and Brazil, have
conducted detailed scoping studies to identify sets of bioproduct targets for future manufacture in a
new prospective industry sector. Those targets have been prioritised as consistent with patterns of
consumption in domestic industries, as an import replacement, and to build or reinforce export
from high value specialty molecules, platform chemicals, and aviation fuels. Local consumption of
by-products are also factored into the economics, especially transport fuels and enriched animal feeds.
This target-setting often considers the volume and nature of feedstock available (sugar, starch,
cellulose) and the resultant product value. Indeed, within the array of bioproducts there is a
relationship between the volume of global demand and product value, such that value is often
inversely proportionate to volume (Figure). In this way, those agricultural industries looking to
value-add crops or crop residues and diversify revenues may consider which of those biobased
options have the potential to deliver the highest value rather than the highest volume (commodity
Figure: Biomanufacturing: indicative relationship between product value and volume of production
Source: Corelli Consulting.
Biomaterials derived from agricultural feedstocks include phenolic formaldehyde resins, the second
largest resin class in global use, as well as carbon fiber, polymer modifiers, adhesives and resins,
derived from lignin or cellulosic residues such as bagasse and wood residues. The global volume for
the phenol-formaldehyde resins market is expected to reach 16 million tonnes by 2016 valued at
US$10.8 billion, with a compound annual growth rate of 12% and is expected to reach US$16
billion by 2022. For other biomaterials, lignin represents a potential low-cost carbon source suitable
for displacing synthetic polymers such as polyacrylonitrile (PAN) in the production of carbon fibre.
The carbon fibre market is expected to grow strongly at ~10% pa until 2020, with 89,000 tonnes
pa generating revenues over US$3.3 billion. The market for carbon fibre is driven largely by the
aerospace and defence, construction, wind turbine, and sports and leisure industries. A major
producer of lignin-based biomaterials is Norway's Borregaard LignoTech (1 million tpa of
lignosuphonates). Borregaard manufactures lignin-based products for battery applications and as
agrochemicals (sales of A$360 million in 2016) and specialty cellulose products including cellulose
ethers, cellulose acetate (revenues of A$264.7 million in 2016) 5.
Biobased chemicals include bulk commodity (~100,000 tpa), platform, and small volume specialty
molecules (1000 tpa or kg quantities). Platform chemicals are often smaller chemical structures
that serve as intermediates for the manufacture of many chemical families. Platform molecules
within the value chain from an agricultural feedstock include ethanol, succinate and ethyl acetate.
US-based Greenyug and its subsidiary Prairie Catalytic are establishing a facility to manufacture
high-grade ethyl acetate from ethanol at 50,000 tonnes per year. The facility is co-located adjacent
to the Archer-Daniels-Midland Company ethanol production facility, which in turn is co-located with
a corn mill in Nebraska. Ethyl acetate is a specialty solvent used in a variety of industrial and
consumer product applications in paint, coating, printing ink and other industries, including coating
formulations such as epoxies, urethanes, cellulosics, acrylics and vinyls and increasing used in
packaging, food and beverage and fragrance and flavour industries., or as the intermediate in the
manufacture of polymers, resins, food and pharmaceuticals, among other products. Biobased ethyl
acetate is a drop-in replacement, i.e. chemically identical to the conventional product. The global
ethyl acetate market is ~1-1.5 million tonne pa valued at US$1-2 billion. The strongest growth
market for ethyl acetate is in Asia Pacific.
Enzymes and specialty sugars are examples of high value, specialist products that are exclusively
manufactured by bio-based processes from renewable feedstocks (Figure 1). The global enzyme
market is a substantial industry generating sales of over US$5 billion in 2016, and anticipated to
exceed 400,000 tons pa by 2024. Enzymes have found uses across the commercial spectrum, with
major industrial applications in the food and beverage, personal care and cosmetics, nutraceuticals,
detergents, textiles and fabrics, animal feeds, biofuels, pulp and paper, and wastewater industries.
The sugar alcohol, xylitol, is the first rare sugar to have established a global market, with
applications in the food industry as a sugar substitute and as an inexpensive starting material for
the production of other rare sugars. Xylitol was one of the promising biobased specialty chemical
targets identified by the US DoE in 2004 and 2010 6, 7 and is manufactured from cellulosic sugars.
The global market for xylitol is expected to reach 242,000 tonnes, valued at just above US$1
billion, by 2020 8, with the value of xylitol estimated at ~US$4,100/tonne.
Global bioplastics production capacity is set to increase from ~1.7 million tonnes in 2014 to ~7.8
million tonnes by 2019, with biobased polyethylene (PE) and biobased polyethylene terephthalate
(PET) as the main drivers of this growth 9. The global bioplastic market is projected to grow from
US$17 billion this year to almost US$44 billion pa by 2022 10. Biobased plastics from renewable
feedstocks may either be drop-in replacements for petrochemical-based plastics such as PE or PET,
or new molecules such as polylactic acid PLA or polyhydroxyalkanoates PHA.
In 2009, the Coca-Cola Company launched its PlantBottle™ technology and subsequently licensed
the technology to other major companies such as food manufacturer H.J. Heinz as well as the Ford
Motor Company. Green PET bottles were initially made up of 30% plant-based material, but CocaCola’s
goal is to produce a PlantBottle™ that is completely bio-based to replace around 60% of all
of Coca-Cola’s packaging 11. The action by Coca-Cola sends a strong signal to the market, raising
the bar for other manufacturers and providing a substantial opportunity to the bio-manufacturing
sector: Coca-Cola alone retails more than 690 billion drinks per year globally 12.
Biodegradable plastics include PHAs and PLA, both made from sugars or starch. PHAs are produced
in Italy as biodegradable microbeads for cosmetics and personal care markets to stem the tide of
petrochemical microplastic entering the food chain 13. PLA is the highest yielding bioplastic from
sugar: 1 kg PLA can be manufactured per 1.6 kg sugar compared with PET (1kg per 5kg sugar) 14.
The global PLA market was valued at ~US$700 million in 2017, and it is anticipated to reach US$2
billion by 2023 and growing rapidly (20%). In terms of volume, the market is expanding from 286
kilo tonnes in 2017 to 830 kilo tonnes by 2023. The largest and first manufacturer of PLA was
Cargill Dow (NatureWorks®) at a 140,000-ton per year manufacturing facility, co-located with field
corn mills, in Nebraska, US. Other major players in PLA are BASF, Corbion, Mitsubishi Chemical,
DowDuPont, Eastman Chemicals, and Bayer 15.
Energy and fuels are often fundamental to the economic viability of many value-adding scenarios in
the sugarcane industry. Cogenerated electricity is already well established within many operations,
and the efficiency of cogen production and export depends on boiler efficiency. São Martinho is a
major sugarcane participant in Brazil producing 327,000 KWh of cogen contributing R$75.7 million
(A$26 million) or 10% of total revenues in the first quarter of this year 16. The fuel ethanol industry
build by the Brazilian government since 1975 now underpins the next stage of bioproducts valueadding,
in which ethanol derived from sugar is a platform molecule for the manufacture of
ethylene- and urethane-based products (PE, PEG; polyurethane foams and resins respectively) as
well as solvents.
Global consumption of jet fuel is around 933 million litres per day, with the US responsible for the
largest share (37%) of that volume. Bio-based aviation fuel from renewable feedstocks has already
enabled more than 130,000 commercial flights by Qantas, Virgin, British Airways, United, Cathay
and others 17. The US Department of Defense (DOD) is the single largest consumer of petroleum in
that country, spending almost US$17 billion on fuel in 2011. The US Air Force and Navy account for
most (85%) of the DOD’s fuel consumption and both forces are collaborating in developing
advanced alternative fuel. The US Navy’s marine diesel fuel is blended with 10% advanced
alternative fuels made from beef tallow: first bulk purchases cost US$0.54 per litre (US2.05/gallon)
for the blended product, very competitive with US petroleum-based fuels 18. Provision of biojet fuel
in the Pacific is a strategic concern for the US Navy’s Green Fleet 19 and a potential opportunity for
Another value-adding opportunity for the agricultural sector is the production of densified pellets as
renewable energy feedstocks derived from compressed biomass such as bagasse, sawdust or other
ground woody or cellulosic biomass. Densified pellets have two major applications 20, 21: energy
generation in coal power plants and residential heating in stoves and boilers.
Over the past 10 years, the production of wood pellets alone has increased in response to rising
global demand for renewable energy. Global production is expected to grow to 45 million tons/year
by 2020, while the global demand is expected to increase to 59 million tons/year, indicating an
addressable gap in market supply 20-22. The European Union has become the principal market for
biomass pellets with 94% growth in the last decade, and prices up to €250/t 22.
Japan and South Korea are the main pellet consumers in Asia based on the growing development
of large-scale power markets in East Asia, and both nations have introduced sustainability
certification schemes for wood pellets. China has reported a consumption target of 30 million
tonnes of biomass pellets by 2020 to replace 15 million tonnes of coal, as part of its five-year plan
for biomass development. It is uncertain how much of China’s demand could be sourced
domestically, suggesting a regional export opportunity for Australia.
Currently, Australia has only two domestic companies with a business in the production of wood
pellets for the export market: Altus Renewables Limited (capacity of 100,000 tonnes pa) and
Western Australia's Plantation Energy (250,000 tonnes pa capacity).
Forces are already in place within the consumer market that are driving the uptake of biobased and
sustainable products as preferred replacements to manufactured goods, previously sourced from
petrochemical feedstocks. The nature of the consumer goods is significantly broad, encompassing
the food and beverage packaging industry (Nestlé Waters, Carlsberg, Tetrapak) through to
furniture and car manufacture.
This corporate landscape is largely shaped by the demands of a consumer market increasingly alert
to issues of renewable materials and global warming, although to some measure there is a growing
corporate awareness, particularly among chemical manufacturers, that sustainable feedstocks are
essential to their future commercial viability.
This changing landscape for both bio-based and recycled materials for new manufacture is
illustrated by such international corporations as Target, Unilever, Lego, Ikea, Coca-Cola, Danone
and Suntory. Furthermore, industry associations such as the Sustainable Packaging Initiative and
the Natur’ALL Bottle Alliance have attracted major international manufacturers such as Coca Cola,
Danone, and Nestlé Waters, corporations that are aligning their in-house strategy into an industry
Evidence of the changing consumer landscape and the rise of bio-manufacturing among major
consumer brands is represented in Table.
Table: Bio-manufacturing within consumer brands: Indicative announcements for 2018;
Source: Corelli Consulting.
|Company||Bio based product||Feedstock|
|Total and Corbion||Poly-lactic acid (PLA) for motor vehicle construction||Sugarcane (Thailand)|
|LEGO||LEGO pieces made from plantbased polyethylene||Sugarcane (Brazil)|
|Danone, Nestlé Waters||Bio-based PET bottles||Lignocellulose|
|Allbirds and Braskem||Resin for shoe construction||Sugarcane (Brazil)|
|Carlsberg and EcoXpac||Fibre containers||Wood fibres|
|Reebok, DuPont Tate & Lyle||Susterra propanediol for shoe construction||Corn|
|Suntory and Annellotech||Polyester, polyethylene terephthalate (PET),|
nylons and polyurethanes
|IKEA and Neste||Polypropylene (PP) and|
polyethylene (PE) plastics
|Waste & residue raw materials, eg used cooking & v egetable oils|
Danone is a European-based dairy product corporation that owns beverage and yoghurt companies
such as Activia, Actimel, Danio, Evian, Volvic, Nutrilon/Aptamil, Nutricia Danone. The company has
a commercial footprint in over 130 markets, generating sales of €21.9 billion (A$35.7 billion) in
2016. Along with another 40 leaders in the food industry, Danone has a global strategy to
reconsider plastics manufacture: recently Danone and Nestlé Waters announced the formation of a
NaturalALL Bottle Alliance accompanied by an investment in a beverage packaging made of biobased PET, from renewable feedstocks.
As has Danone, Suntory has recently announced a significant investment in innovative technology
to produce a biobased PET beverage bottle for global distribution. Since 2012, Suntory’s has had a
strategic commitment to sustainable business practices with an investment in the biobased PET
bottle initiative with the technology company Anellotech. Suntory has invested more than US$25
million in Anellotech’s Bio-TCat™ technology to date: the Bio-TCat™ process produces aromatic
chemicals (benzene, toluene and xylenes (BTX)) from lignocellulosic biomass for use in plastics
manufacture (polyester, nylon, polycarbonate, polystyrene), or for renewable transport fuels 23.
The US corn industry generates revenues as a food (sweet corn) and as an animal feed (field corn).
Industry grower associations have actively assisted the diversification of applications for field corn:
to generate revenue streams as a feedstock for fuel ethanol production as well as for biobased
NatureWorks is the first and still one of the largest lactic-acid plants in the world, used to
manufacture the biodegradable industrial bioplastic polylactic acid PLA. This bioplastic can be made
from a number of sugar or starch-based agricultural crops. NatureWorks was initially formed as the
joint venture of Cargill and Dow Chemical Co (1997) and now is a JV between Cargill and Japan’s
Teijin Ltd (2007). The NatureWorks PLA plant in Nebraska produces 140,000 tonnes per year 24.
The PLA production plants are located next to a corn wet mill where the starch in corn kernels is
converted into glucose used as the raw material for the lactic acid fermentation process.
Co-location of PLA manufacture with the production of the corn feedstock within one of the largest
corn producing states sets up an efficient integrated production operation.
The global PLA market is anticipated to reach 830 kilo tonnes valued at US$2.1 billion by 2023. Key
factors driving the rapid market growth include favourable government policies promoting bioplastics
and increasing consumer demand for bio-plastic packaging.
The Brazilian sugar industry is an example of a diversification and value adding in agriculture. Both
specialty and bulk commodity products are produced from either sugarcane or ethanol made from
sugarcane; these have contributed to Brazil becoming a leading global producer of biobased
chemicals. A national survey in 2014 identified a target group of biobased specialty compounds for
industrial development leveraging sugarcane feedstocks: for use as cosmetics, agrochemicals, feed
additives, aromas, flavours and fragrances, solvents and carbon fibre 25.
The São Martinho Group is one of Brazil’s largest producers of sugar and ethanol. The company
purchases, cultivates, harvests and crushes sugarcane as the feedstock for both sugar and ethanol
operations. Sao Martinho has a well-diversified agri-business, producing annually, in addition to
crystal sugar and ethanol 26:
- Electricity: exported from its co-generation plant;
- RNA: a specialty nucleic acid for the pharmaceutical and food industries;
- Yeast: a protein and vitamin source used in animal feed;
- Fusel oil and amyl alcohol: used in heavy industry manufacture; and
The company understands the value of sugar as a feedstock to make high value chemicals. In April
2010, São Martinho partnered with US-based Amyris Biotechnologies for the construction of a
chemical plant to produce the speciality chemical farnesene, a platform molecule used to make
families of other chemicals including flavour and fragrance compounds, vitamins and lubricants.
Amyris recently sold its Brazilian factory and IP for speciality products to DSM for US$58 million:
vitamin E is one of DSM’s biggest revenue earners, and producing farnesene from sugarcane allows
DSM to be the lowest-cost global vitamin E producer.
Ethylene is a basic organic chemical serving as an ingredient for a basket of other commodity
chemical products. With global production exceeding 140 million tonnes per year and growing
actively, ethylene is by far the largest bulk chemical used for the production of around half of all
plastics. Bio-ethylene is produced from ethanol, and Brazil provides a favourable environment for
the production of bio-ethylene from sugarcane. Bio-ethanol has been economically produced in
Brazil as a transportation fuel since 1975: inexpensive sugarcane and large scale bio-ethanol
production and experience as the world’s second largest producer has made Brazilian bio-ethylene
cost competitive. Brazil’s national chemical company Braskem has manufactured green ethylene
since 2010 as “I’m Green™” polyethylene at 200,000 tonnes pa, making the company a global
leader in drop-in bioplastics 27.
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