An integrated biorefinery concept for conversion of sugar beet pulp into value-added chemicals and pharmaceutical intermediates
Over 8 million tonnes of sugar beet are grown annually in the UK. Sugar beet pulp (SBP) is the main by-product of sugar beet processing which is currently dried and sold as a low value animal feed. SBP is a rich source of carbohydrates, mainly in the form of cellulose and pectin, including D-glucose (Glu), L-arabinose (Ara) and D-galacturonic acid (GalAc). This work describes the technical feasibility of an integrated biorefinery concept for the fractionation of SBP and conversion of these monosaccharides into value-added products. SBP fractionation is initially carried out by steam explosion under mild conditions to yield soluble pectin and insoluble cellulose fractions. The cellulose is readily hydrolysed by cellulases to release Glu that can then be fermented by a commercial yeast strain to produce bioethanol at a high yield. The pectin fraction can be either fully hydrolysed, using physico-chemical methods, or selectively hydrolysed, using cloned arabinases and galacturonases, to yield Ara-rich and GalAc-rich streams. These monomers can be separated using either Centrifugal Partition Chromatography (CPC) or ultrafiltration into streams suitable for subsequent enzymatic upgrading. Building on our previous experience with transketolase (TK) and transaminase (TAm) enzymes, the conversion of Ara and GalAc into higher value products was explored. In particular the conversion of Ara into L-gluco-heptulose (GluHep), that has potential therapeutic applications in hypoglycaemia and cancer, using a mutant TK is described. Preliminary studies with TAm also suggest GluHep can be selectively aminated to the corresponding chiral aminopolyol. The current work is addressing the upgrading of the remaining SBP monomer, GalAc, and the modelling of the biorefinery concept to enable economic and Life Cycle Analysis (LCA).
- This article is part of the themed collection: Bio-resources: feeding a sustainable chemical industry