MMI, Micromidas, targeting sugar beet waste for “Plant Bottle” feedstock

September 28, 2014 |

In Michigan, the Michigan Molecular Institute, Michigan Sugar Company and Micromidas have partnered in a 9-month, $150,000 SBIR research grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to create ways to convert sugar beet waste, or raffinate waste, into commodity chemicals.

“Sugar beets are processed into sugar through a multi-step procedure,” said MMI Research Scientist Dr. Patrick Smith. “The beets are sliced, the sugar extracted and purified. A residue that’s left from this process that still contains substantial levels of sucrose and other sugars is called the raffinate stream. This is a low-value material that our process is able to convert to a considerably higher value chemical product.”

Possible target? Think Plant Bottles. As Smith explains, “A group of consumer companies that includes Coca-Cola, Ford Motor, Heinz, Nike and Proctor & Gamble have put together a consortium that funds biobased routes to poly(ethylene terephthalate), or PET.

That’s the plastic used for plastic soda, ketchup and water bottles, which this consortium has trade-named the ‘Plant Bottle.’ The real advantage is that it’s biobased, and our target is to match the petroleum costs. There’s a real desire for consumers to have biobased packaging materials like the Plant Bottle, and our work is shaping up to be a solid approach to help them get there.”

Smith said MMI received approximately $70,000 from the grant, administered by the Department of Energy under the Small Business Innovation Research program. If research continues to go as well as hoped, there’s a good chance the work will continuing through an SBIR Phase II grant, which is $1,000,000.

“About half of Phase I projects make it to Phase II,” he said. “So far in our research, even though we’re only a few months in, things are going very well. Phase II is looking more at optimization and scale-up of the process, with the target of building a pilot plant in Michigan.”

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