They got the beets! Avantium, Cosun partner on 1st commercial plant to produce plant-based glycols

April 27, 2021 |

They got the beets, They got the beets, They got the beets, Yeah, they got the beets!

From the Netherlands comes news that Avantium and Cosun Beet Company have joined forces to construct and operate the first commercial plant for the production of plant-based glycols, using Avantium’s Ray Technology. This converts sugars, like those in Cosun’s beets, into glycols plantMEG and plantMPG, which are both fully recyclable and plant-based products.

In today’s Digest, Why beets? Why Cosun Beet Company? What’s the tech behind it? Why are beets so often overlooked as a bioenergy crop? What is plantMEG and plantMPG used for? Find out now!

The project

Avantium currently produces plantMEG and plantMPG at its demonstration plant in Delfzijl, the Netherlands using Cosun Beet Company’s beet sugar as the renewable feedstock, so they’ve already got a good thing going which helps for the envisioned joint venture. The products are being validated in commercially relevant applications by Avantium. plantMEG is used in applications such as packaging and textiles, and plantMPG is used in industrial applications such as heat transfer fluid for solar panels.

But now Avantium and Cosun are going a step further to jointly construct and operate the world’s first commercial plant for the production of plant-based glycols using Avantium’s Ray Technology.

They entered into a Term Sheet to establish a joint venture in which Cosun Beet Company will take a substantial share. The Term Sheet describes the intention and conditions for the joint venture to acquire a Ray Technology license from Avantium as well as the key commercial terms for a long-term sugar supply agreement to secure the feedstock for the commercial plant.

As part of its licensing business model, Avantium will continue to develop and license its Ray Technology globally. Cosun Beet Company will continue to explore opportunities to expand its bio-based portfolio as part of the company’s strategy.

Why beets?

Beets make sense. They are high in sugar and starch – which is needed for the bioenergy conversion. The joint venture will be using beet sugar sourced from its substantial shareholder, Cosun Beet Company. But for Avantium’s Ray Technology, other sources of high sugar plant-based feedstock can be used as well. In their demo plant in Delfzijl, the Netherlands, they test sugars from different crops and in different grades to assess their economic viability.

Just last month, The Digest reported that AFYREN and Südzucker reached an unprecedented long-term agreement on the supply of sugar beet co-products as feedstock for AFYREN NEOXY, the zero-waste, low-carbon biorefinery that will begin producing seven 100% biobased organic acids at industrial scale in early 2022. Südzucker will provide the biorefinery’s supply of sugar beet co-products. The agreement to upcycle these co-products into high-value chemicals that are usually made from petroleum derivatives fits into its commitment to conduct business in a manner that utilizes resources sustainably and the aim of Südzucker to be climate neutral by 2050.

Red River Biorefinery still gets its beet tailings feedstock for their biorefinery from American Crystal Sugar.

So who is Cosun Beet Company (formerly known as Suiker Unie)?

The ambition of Cosun Beet Company, part of Royal Cosun, is to be the greenest, most innovative and most successful sugar beet processor in the world. With some 850 employees, they are already one of the most efficient sugar producers in Europe. As well as developing, producing and selling sugar and sugar specialties, they process all parts of the sugar beet into natural ingredients for food, energy, biobased and related industries. All components of the beet are used, nothing is wasted.


“We have not yet made a final decision on the capacity of the commercial plant but we aim to build a full-size commercial plant,” Avantium’s CEO Tom van Aken told The Digest in an exclusive interview. “To give you an idea, with a plant output likely being in excess of 100 thousand tonnes per year, the amount of sugar required will also be well over 100 thousand tonnes per year.”


Cosun Beet Company and Avantium plan to form the joint venture in 2021 with the aim to make an investment decision for the foreseen commercial plant in the first half of 2023 and commercial operations commencing in 2025. “The joint venture is envisioned to be a world class producer of plant-based glycols to actively contribute to a fossil-free future,” according to their press release.

The tech and MEG market

Avantium’s Ray Technology converts sugars into glycols: plantMEG (mono-ethylene glycol) and plantMPG (mono-propylene glycol). MEG is a what Avantium calls a “blockbuster commodity intermediate” and plantMEG is a fully recyclable plant-based product used in broad applications like packaging, polyester textiles, and antifreeze. Currently, MEG is widely used as an important chemical building block for plastic bottles and packaging, polyester textiles for clothing and furniture, and antifreeze applications. The current MEG market is estimated at €24 billion in 2021. The vast – and ever-growing – market for MEG, however, poses a threat to the environment. Avantium sees plantMEG as the answer. PlantMEG gives brands the option of a sustainable, recyclable, and innovative ingredient that will attract environmentally conscious consumers. Avantium’s Ray Technology single-step catalytic process means plantMEG is cost-competitive with the petroleum-based incumbent while being identical to fossil-based MEG in quality and performance. By using the Ray Technology, the plantMEG produced at the intended facility is expected to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil-based MEG. Avantium is expected to communicate results from an environmental life cycle assessment later in the year.

Ray plantMPG is a non-toxic, plant-based, high purity chemical used in airport operations for the deicing of airplanes, for use in unsaturated polyester resins, for example in modern windmill blades, as well as heat transfer fluid in solar panels. The global mono-propylene glycol (MPG) demand represents an estimated €3 billion market in 2021.

Reactions from the stakeholders

Paul Mesters, Cosun Beet Company CEO, comments: “We have the ambition to be the greenest, most innovative, and most successful sugar beet processor in the world. The collaboration with Avantium is an exciting example of our aim to maximise the valorisation of sugar beets while actively contributing to a fossil-free future. We look forward to growing and deepening our partnership with Avantium in the coming years.”

Albert Markusse, CEO Royal Cosun comments: “This innovative partnership between Cosun Beet Company and Avantium with the aim to turn the potential of plants into practical solutions for societal challenges, is at the heart of the Cosun vision. Together with our growers, we are well positioned to produce plant based solutions for a better future.”

Avantium CEO Tom van Aken comments: “The contemplated joint venture with Cosun Beet Company is a major development in the commercialisation of our breakthrough Ray Technology™. We aim to create value for all our stakeholders by bringing this game-changing technology to produce plant-based glycols to market along with our FDCA and PEF products. With Cosun Beet Company, we plan to construct the world’s first RAY sugars-to-glycols plant and enable the commercial launch of plant-based glycols in broad applications to help fulfill Avantium’s vision for a fossil-free world. Our partnership with Cosun Beet Company combines our complementary competencies and shared ambition to create solutions for a sustainable future.”

Bottom Line

Avantium and Cosun’s JV is an interesting one in part to the feedstock which we don’t hear much about. And we aren’t sure about the future of beet feedstock growth given that in November 2020, The Digest reported that Cristal Union sugarbeet production was down because the EU ban on neonic pesticides has led to a 30% drop in sugarbeet production this season. And going back a little further, in September 2018, The Digest reported that the proportionate use of cereal raw materials in the production of bioethanol has shifted in Germany in recent years as wheat pushed beets into 2nd place for bioethanol feedstock.

But either way you look at it, taking plants and plant waste – whether its beets or otherwise – and converting them into bioplastic, biochemical, biofuels, etc. is better than using fossil fuels. So congrats to Avantium and Cosun and we look forward to seeing their new commercial operation for plant-based glycols. You can also check out Avantium’s recently published sustainability plan “Chain Reaction 2030”, including the aim to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, here.

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