Johan Sanders: efficient use of biomass is the key

Johan Sanders is a professor in valorisation of biomass chains at Wageningen UR. According to Johan, the key to successful deployment of biomass is its efficient use: efficiency in use of the resource itself, and in that of its inputs (land, water, minerals), and in energy and capital. Even if that were not true yesterday, it is so today, in a world that is short in investment capital and hence has erected even larger stumbling blocks for new technologies on their road to the market.

From experience and from theoretical considerations, Johan Sanders estimates that reducing costs for heat transfer to a minimum will contribute greatly to these goals. He envisages the ascent of a new type of industry in which pre-treatment of crops will take place as close to the farm as possible to produce storable intermediate products. This allows for direct recycling of minerals to the land, an issue that could otherwise threaten the development of a biobased economy.

Another consequence is that chemical operations on biobased chemicals will have to leave intact as many functionalized groups (containing oxygen or nitrogen) as possible. ‘In this way,’ Johan indicates, ‘we have been able to design industrial processing of glutamate into acrylonitrile or butanediamine, of serine into ethanolamine, and of phenylalanine into styrene and acrylate. We will be able to produce ethanol at a scale 100 times as small as US factories, at a unit capital cost that is well below US experience.’

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