Technology for Wood and Natural Fiber-Based Materials

Research project

WeRümA – Material development on the basis of beet pulp for market-relevant applications

The application of sugar beet pulp in composite materials or as a component of plastic films will provide sugar beet producers with new fields of business in the future and reduces the consumption of fossil raw materials. We are working together with the Fraunhofer UMSICHT and with partners from agriculture and industry to investigate innovative and economical usage possibilities for beet pulp.

© Pfeifer und Langen/CC BY-SA 3.0
For the production of crystal sugar, sugar beet (left) is chopped (center) and extracted. Sugar beet pulp (right) is a by-product of this process.

During beet harvesting and processing, beet pulp in the seven-figure tonne range is accrued by the largest German sugar producers alone. This so-called pressed pulp is currently marketed regionally as dairy cattle fodder or biogas substrate. The limited marketability leads to a portion of the pressed pulp, once dried and pressed into pellets, being sold as storable feedstuff. The quantities produced will, however, continue to rise throughout Europe. Furthermore, the expiry in 2017 of the sugar market regulation creates a need for action concerning the development of new value-creation opportunities.

The usage of beet pulp in higher-quality applications beyond the energy and feedstuffs markets provides a contribution towards the federal bioeconomic strategy, strengthens regional markets and simultaneously saves fossil raw materials. 

Higher-quality applications

In general, the question arises as to which biogenic raw materials are available for sustained material utilization in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany and Europe. As regards energy and resources, beet pulp can be produced efficiently, as sugar factories employ cogeneration to produce energy and the waste heat is used very efficiently as a source of energy. Sugar beet pulp, however, has a composition which differs from commonplace plant fibers or agricultural products such as starch and wood: cellulose, hemicellulose and pectins are present in similar proportions, whilst lignin is only present in small amounts. This necessitates modifications to the processing procedure.  

 

Production concepts and applications

On the basis of cooperative ventures with several regional companies along the value-creation chain - from the raw material to the end products - technical and economic questions concerning feasibility are to be answered within the joint project. These include process engineering, formulation development and testing of the produced composite materials.

At the Fraunhofer WKI, we are working on the conditioning of the beet pulp by means of thermomechanical procedures. Amongst other things, we are addressing the application of the refiner used in the wood sector and processing in composite materials. The Fraunhofer UMSICHT team is examining the possibility of utilizing beet pulp in plastic films, whereby the conditioning of the beet pulp is presenting a challenge as regards its applicability within the micrometer range - foils are often only 20 μm thick. A conceivable application for this would be, for example, mulching films for agriculture. 

Results

We succeeded in producing medium and high-density wood-fiber boards (MDF and HDF), with a mixing ratio of 15 percent beet pellets and 85 percent spruce chips. Together with the team from the Fraunhofer UMSICHT, we developed mulch films with a beet-pulp content using blown film and pressing procedures.

Project partners

The project partners along the value-creation chain:

  • Beet: Pfeifer & Langen GmbH & Co. KG, Landwirtschaftlicher Betrieb Koch*
  • Raw material conditioning: Jäckering Mühlen- und Nährmittelwerke GmbH, Fraunhofer WKI, Harold-Scholz & Co GmbH*
  • Semi-finished materials: Kunststoff-Institut Lüdenscheid, Fraunhofer UMSICHT, Entex Rust & Mitschke GmbH, FKuR Kunststoff GmbH, BYK-Chemie GmbH*
  • End products: SWOBODA engineering GmbH, nova-Institut für politische und ökologische Innovation GmbH

*associated partners

Funding

Funding body:
The "WeRümA" project is funded through a grant from the State of North Rhine-Westphalia using funds from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) 2014-2020 "Investment for Growth and Employment".

 

Project management:
LeitmarktAgentur.NRW | Projektträger Jülich

 

Project duration:
1.1.2017 to 31.12.2019