Newton Bhabha Industrial Waste: Reducing Industrial Waste from Sugarcane Processing in India

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Biology


Sugarcane processing produces notable levels of industrial waste due to inefficiencies in capturing full value from the biological components of the raw material. In particular, large amounts of lignocellulosic biomass residues accumulate and enter waste water effluents from processing plants, causing significant problems in waterways. We will develop innovative biotechnological approaches to generating added value to sugarcane processing, while simultaneously minimising waste from process plants. We will capture value from waste streams by developing the production of biobased chemicals and bioenergy. Our innovations include the application of enzyme-mediated production of fermentable sugars from waste streams and the development of industrial microorganisms able to convert these into chemicals and energy. These changes will lead to improved environmental impacts, increased profitability and new job creation

Planned Impact

The work is primarily aimed at reducing pollution from industrial waste water, which is recognised as a major challenge in India, causing harmful consequences for human health and well-being as well negative environmental consequences. In addition, our work is aimed at increasing the income of farmers that grow sugarcane by creating value from the sugarcane tops. This will increase farm income as the sugar mills will purchase, what would otherwise be a waste material from the farmers. By increasing the profitability of sugar mills by providing additional income through bio-based chemicals production from waste materials, the project will help provide new jobs and income in communities associated with sugarcane farming and processing. Natems (our industry partner in India) is committed to improving the incomes and well-being of farmers and of their employees. For example, they have worked with their associated farmers to double the productivity of sugarcane and are introducing a private healthcare system for the benefit of their farmers and workers. In these ways the project is in alignment with UN Strategic Development goals 3, Good Health and Well-Being; 6, Clean Water and Sanitation; 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth; and 9, Industry Innovation and Infrastructure.
Description The collaborative consortium visited one of the Indian industry partner's (Natems) Sugar factories near Hyderabad in India. The visit gave us insight into local site conditions in which our technologies may be deployed. The visit also allowed us to understand the scale of flows of material through the factory and plan for the scale of hydrolysis and fermentation equipment that we are developing technologies for. We have recieved materials (bagasse, cane tops and press mud) from the factory and have begun developing the pretreatment and hydrolysis approaches for these materials. Design of the reactors has begun and some trials of bagasse processing in a pilot autoclave sysem have been undertaken. Preliminary work with enzymes produced by Graphium (UK) and Penicilium(India) species has begun. We have started fermentation trialsusing bagasse hydrolysates, and in-silico strain optimisation work has started. We are currently isolating new strains of Aspergillus to give us freedom to operate in citric acid production.

New strains of Aspergillus tubingensis have been isolated and improved by strain selection. Citric acid production has been bosted over 12 fold compared to wild isolates and productivity is now potentially industrially appropriate. Strains have been adapted to be manganese insensitive, which will help reduce capex requirements on fermenters as lower grade steel can be used in their construction.
We have developed effective pretreatment and enzyme hydrolysis condititions for bagasse conversion. These have been adapted to work at lower temperatures to reduce the Capex requirements neded for high temeperature and pressure vessels. Prototype reactors for biomass conversion are being developed. We have changed pretreatment chemistry in order to cut waste emissions and produce added value products to the process.
Overall progress has been severely delayed (by 9-12 months) due to Covid restrictions. The lack of any form of extension to the project end date, has severely imperilled the production of satisfactory outcomes to this work and may result in a substantial waste of public, overseas aid, and private money.
Exploitation Route Our aim is to develop industrial processes. We are trying to establish a joint venture between all partners to eventually commercialise our work if it is successful. The prospect of this is now in doubt due to the lack of a project extension to cover time lost to Covid restrictions.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology