The environment and society
Striking the right balance between sustainability and profitability is of paramount importance. We are continuously looking for the most sustainable ways to use natural resources, make energy savings, work more efficiently and reduce emissions. By increasing the availability of renewable energy in the form of green gas from the biomass that is a by-product of sugar production, we are making a major contribution to the circular economy. Suiker Unie is the biggest green gas producer in the Netherlands.
Suiker Unie has been participating in EcoVadis since 2012. We were again awarded a Gold rating this year. Suiker Unie is also a member of CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project).
Energy savings throughout the supply chain
Suiker Unie has been successfully reducing its energy consumption for many years. The sugar factories in Dinteloord and Vierverlaten rank among the biggest and most energy efficient beet processing facilities in Europe. Suiker Unie has set itself the goal of reducing its energy consumption per tonne of sugar by 50% by 2020 in comparison with the reference year of 1990 (the base year agreed upon in the Kyoto Protocol). Thanks to major investments in multistage evaporation, thermal compression and other processes and smaller initiatives such as the use of LED lights, we are well on the way to achieving this goal..
Suiker Unie won the Dutch economic ministry’s Energy Award in 2016. The two sugar factories in the Netherlands have efficient combined heat and power plants that generate both steam and electricity.
The other links in the supply chain are also working on energy reduction. Serious attention is being devoted to reducing the number of kilometres that the sugar beet and our other end products are transported. Sustainable fuels, such as compressed natural gas (CNG), are used wherever possible in order to reduce the carbon footprint.
Sugar production is a source of emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). They are produced when natural gas is combusted in the boilers and pulp dryers. Ammonia (NH3) is also released when the factories are ventilated and process water is cooled. Dust is produced when pressed pulp and sugar are dried and cooled.
To prevent or minimise emissions, the burners in the boilers were upgraded in 2015 and 2016 and now meet very strict NOx standards. A major investment was also made in the Vierverlaten factory in 2016 to condense the ammonia out of a variety of process vapours so that atmospheric emissions are reduced to virtually zero. The ammonia is condensed and removed from the process water in the treatment plant. The benefits of this investment are two-fold: there are fewer odour emissions and ammonia emissions have been largely eliminated.
Carbon footprint (CFP)
Suiker Unie is taking measures to reduce its carbon footprint. The carbon footprint is a measure of the greenhouse gases emitted by a particular process or supply chain. In Suiker Unie’s taste, it takes account of the gases emitted during seed production, growing conditions, the crop protection agents and fertilisers used and the transportation of beet to the sugar factories. It also measures the greenhouse gases released when fossil fuels such as natural gas are burnt to turn the beet into sugar. The target for 2020 is to reduce the carbon footprint by 40%.
Circular water consumption
Water makes up more than 70% of the sugar beet and it is released as a condensate during the production process. The water is reused wherever possible, for example to wash the sugar beet or the trucks. Surplus water is purified and stored in underground water tanks or released into surface waters. The stored water is used at AFC Nieuw Prinsenland to irrigate the plants.
Suiker Unie has not used any groundwater to start up the campaign since 2012.
Suiker Unie: the biggest green gas producer in the Netherlands. Residual flows from the sugar production include beet tips and foliage. Surplus pressed pulp is fermented to produce energy. Suiker Unie is now the biggest producer of green gas in the Netherlands. Since we began, we have produced 100 million 3 of green gas, enough to meet the needs of 60,000 households every year.
Suiker Unie is responsible for a lot of transport movements. Every day, many tonnes of sugar are delivered by bulk trucks to industrial customers and consumer products are supplied to the retailers’ distribution centres, and during the campaign, the sugar beet are carried from the fields to the factories. We are taking measures to minimise the environmental impact of transport.
Bulk trucks driving on green gas
Many of Suiker Unie’s cars and trucks have been driving on our own green gas since 2011. Suiker Unie also has 13 bulk trucks that run on a blend of natural gas and diesel. Thanks to recent technical advances, natural gas is also an alternative to diesel for heavier trucks. Our first bulk trucks began driving exclusively on green gas in 2019. We intend to increase their number in the future.
The standard truck fleet is suitable to make deliveries of up to 33 tonnes. Several measures are being taken to increase the loading capacity to 35 tonnes, subject, of course, to all legal provisions.
To date, 30 longer combination vehicles have been used to supply our customers. This has reduced the number of truck movements and reduced CO2 emissions. It has also reduced congestion in the Netherlands.
Making fewer deliveries also has benefit for our customers, such as less unloading work, and also causes less inconvenience to local residents.
Suiker Unie is optimistic about the future and extracts the greatest possible value out of its raw materials and residual flows by means of the circular economy. Maximum use is made of the residuals remaining from the production process. Organic matter and minerals are returned to their source regions wherever possible.
Noah, the world’s first circular car
Suiker Unie regards the entire sugar beet as a source of biomass. This creates enormous potential for products other than sugar. We are working, for example, on the development of bioplastics from thick juice, fibres from beet pulp, proteins from beet foliage and green gas from beet tops and tails. Students from Eindhoven university have even built a car whose body is made out of sugar.
Closing the loops
Beet tips and other organic matter are converted into green gas in biomass digesters at the production sites in Dinteloord, Vierverlaten and Anklam. The biomass digesters are connected to the sugar factories in various ways so that sugar beet residuals can be processed immediately on site. Nieuw Prinsenland, a sustainable business park and commercial greenhouse complex, is being developed on a site next to the sugar factory in Dinteloord. In the future, it may be possible to use the CO2 released by the digesters in the greenhouses.
The digestate that is left behind after extracting the gas is used in agriculture and horticulture to improve and maintain soil condition.
And we have identified even more opportunities to close loops in the supply chain, in the factories themselves in some cases or on an exchange basis with partners in others. For example, we treat and filter our process water so that it can be used as washing water in the sugar factories. In Dinteloord, we supply some of our surplus treated water to neighbouring greenhouses where it is used to irrigate the plants. We use the methane from our in-house water treatment plant to drive steam turbines and reduce our consumption of natural gas. By doing so we are moving a step closer to the circular economy.