A world without sugars is inconceivable to us. Sugars are well-known in food, but also in the chemical field there are good applications.

We can distinguish two generations of sugars:

  • the first generation is intended for the food chain, and includes sucrose (fructose and glucose) from sugar beet, 
  • while the second generation includes sugars that are present in nature but are unsuitable for human consumption, such as those from waste straw or from elephant grass (Miscanthus).

From biomass to sustainable chemicals 

Sugars – or rather carbohydrates – occur in a wide variety of chemical compounds. There are, for example, C4, C5 and C6 sugars, according to the number of carbon atoms in their molecules, and there are also simple and complex carbohydrates (mono- and polysaccharides).
The PERFORM project (a European project involving 11 partners within Horizon2020) focuses on converting C6 sugars produced from second-generation sugars (monosaccharides) into basic chemicals. The hope is to produce sustainable chemicals from biomass, rather than from fossil fuels as is currently the case. Two chemicals of particular interest are glucaric acid and adipic acid. The former is currently being used as an additive in detergents, while the latter is a key component in the production of plastics such as nylon.
The aim of PERFORM is to develop this conversion process, and to build a plant in which this conversion can take place. This will make it possible to organise demonstration projects to prove how it is perfectly possible to convert glucose into chemicals using energy-efficient methods and renewable energy. This project will continue until 2022.

In the SweetEst project (Catalisti-VLAIO project), research is being conducted by five partners into the production and use of sugar esters. These are added to facial creams to facilitate their distribution across the skin, or to achieve a stable emulsion of the water and the oil phase in mayonnaise. Sugar esters are composed of a water-soluble sugar bound to a hydrophobic fatty acid.  At present, they are produced synthetically at a high temperature, which results in discolouration of the product and in turn requires additional processes to decolourise and also deodorise the product. Since the enzymatic synthesis of sugar esters occurs at a lower temperature, we obtain a higher quality product, and the process becomes more sustainable and energy-efficient. The enzymatically produced sugar esters will be tested for use as surfactants in cosmetics, detergents, and industrial applications, and as antimicrobials in animal feed. 

Meanwhile, the nine partners in the INTERREG project ValBran will be working to obtain sugars from bran in order to upgrade them. The aim will be to not only produce sugar esters, but also alkyl glycosides.