Newton Bhabha Industrial Waste: Valorising Waste from Sugar Cane Industries via Innovations in Pretreatment, Biotransformation and Intensification

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Chemistry and Chemical Eng


The sugar cane industry is the second-largest agro-based industry in India and supports approximately 60 million farmers and their families. The sugarcane and associated industry however produces more than100 million tons (MT) of solid and liquid wastes every year (~80 MT of bagasse, ~10 MT of press mud, 45 billion litres of spent wash, bagasse pitch and ~25 MT of cane trash). Part of the bagasse is used to generate power by burning it in boilers. The huge quantities of wastes produced by sugar and associated industries pose a significant challenge as well as an opportunity.

The vWa project is aimed at harnessing UK expertise on transforming waste biomass to energy and chemicals for providing technological solutions to address problem of waste generated by sugar and associated industries in India. Two leading bioenergy companies in UK (Nova Pangaea Technologies and Green Fuels Research) are collaborating with three UK universities (Queen's University Belfast, Cranfield University and Nottingham University) to develop appropriate solutions for transforming five major waste streams (bagasse, press mud, spent wash, bagasse pith and sugar cane trash) to transportation fuels (bio-CNG and butanol) and chemicals (succinic and lactic acid). The UK consortium has identified relevant Indian partners which include an apex R & D organisation of sugar mills, Vasantdada Sugar Institute (which has 146 sugar mills and 74 distilleries as their members), two large sugar mills (Dhampur and Lokmangal), a start-up focussed on pre-treatment (Vivira) along with three Indian research Institute (Indian Institute of Technology Bombay & Delhi and Indian Institute of Petroleum). The vWa consortium will address the key challenges in valorisation of a lignocellulosic biomass (LCB) namely development of a cost effective pre-treatment method (combination of cavitation, thermal and biological) to improve digestibility of biomass, transformation of treated biomass to fermentable sugar (after detoxification) and transformation of the sugars to products. Most of the past and ongoing efforts focus on pre-treatment for recovering cellulose from LCB and then converting it to sugars and other value added products. These approaches suffer from high costs associated to pre-treatment. In this project, we aim to develop and commercialise technologies for transforming five waste streams mentioned above to transportation fuels (bioCNG and biobutanol [BB]), and two value added chemicals (succinic acid [SA] and lactic acid [LA]). The key innovation lies in hybrid pre-treatment methods: thermal process (developed by Nova), hydrodynamic cavitation (developed by PI, Vivira) and anaerobic digestion (AD). The AD will be used for the first time to selectively convert hemi-cellulose to biogas and retain cellulose in the digestate which will be converted to sugars. Lignin from the digestate will be separated from the residue and may be sold as a by-product for further valorisation. The sugars obtained from digestate will be subjected to microbial fermentation to manufacture BB, SA and LA. The process conditions and strategies will be optimized and intensified & modular processes will be developed to obtain BB, SA and LA of desired purity from the fermentation broth. The proposed approach and aimed solutions will realise a step change in the state of the art. The developed solutions will be demonstrated on pilot and field scales wherever possible. These demonstrations and industry connect of the consortium partners will be used to facilitate commercialisation of developed technologies. The developed solutions will make tangible difference in productivity of sugar cane industries in India and will therefore have significant beneficial impact on wellbeing of large population in rural India.

Planned Impact

The vWa will bring about significant scientific and technological advancements beyond the current state of the art in transforming biomass to energy and chemicals by developing novel pre-treatment strategies, improving conversion technologies using anaerobic digestion, bio catalysts, bio-transformations and optimizing process operations. The developments in each of these areas will converge towards an integrated process to valorise biomass waste/side-streams. It will result in growing research capability and capacity, new knowledge and scientific advancement, innovative methodologies, cross-disciplinary approaches, worldwide academic advancement & enhancing knowledge economy. In addition, the technological development will be directed towards solutions suitable for flexible implementation, enabling application of the overall processes in smaller scale decentralized plants which can be operated with different types of raw biomass or biomass waste. The proposed project will have significant potential impact on environmental sustainability, protection & impact and public engagement with research & related societal issues. It will contribute to economic growth and job creation, namely in rural areas where biomass resources are abundant.

Socio-Economic impact: The vWa project will benefit the rural areas by valorising wastes generated by sugar and allied industry. The beneficiaries will be society as a whole, in specific the rural population (>100 million) in India which is dependent on these industries. The vWa project intends to deliver sustainable growth for rural sector, by providing a significant boost to the rural economy as well as providing a much-needed supply of renewable energy to public residing in the rural India. It will provide better access to energy, promoting new industries, generating employment and sustainable & inclusive economic growth in rural India. Not only does the project provides benefits in terms of waste reduction and decreased greenhouse gas emission, but it also makes a significant contribution to creating new job opportunities.

Environmental impact: The vWa solution will have a positive environmental impact by creating the opportunity to convert bio-waste into biochemicals and biofuels (bioCNG, SA, LA and BB). The reduction of the waste generated by sugar and allied industries is itself a considerable improvement. The vWa technology will achieve better utilization of the carbon from the biomass. In particular, the vWa project will deliver a significant reduction in the environmental impact by decreasing the carbon footprint and curbing GHG emissions (at least 30% in areas where the technology is implemented). The reductions will help Europe reach the goals set forth by Horizon2020. The decentralization of fuels production that can be achieved with vWa will limit the dependence on outside suppliers of fossil fuels.

Market link: In addition to helping the rural sector to grow, the vWa project will develop new engineering and biochemical technologies, which will generate large number of jobs, high-value chemical products and materials. The vWa consortium includes industrial partners, who will be able to effectively take these process technologies to market and exploit them in existing and new biorefineries around the world. The vWa project involves industrial players throughout all work packages to ensure a strict alignment of the scientific and technological activities with the demands and market outlook of industrial partners, who will eventually exploit the technology developed in vWa. Through the vWa project we seek to establish an Indo-UK technological dominance in this emerging business. The developed approach, capabilities and know-how generated during the project will be generic in nature and can be applied to reap tangible benefits in other countries like Bangladesh, Brazil and others.


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