Energy Beets viable rotation crop for sugarbeet growers

2013-03-10T03:30:00Z Energy Beets viable rotation crop for sugarbeet growersBy TERRI ADAMS The Prairie Star The Prairie Star
March 10, 2013 3:30 am  • 

Growing sugarbeets to make shampoo? It’s not only probable – it may soon be reality.

Beets are no longer grown just for sweet table results…they can also be processed into ingredients used to make moisturizers, sunscreen, hairspray, polyester fibers, water bottle plastic and liquid detergent.

Beets can even be used in the manufacturing of glucosamine, which is used to treat arthritis. Currently glucosamine is currently made from seafood byproducts, making it unusable for those with seafood allergies.

Now, instead of just creating sugar, varieties of beets may soon be processed for their natural bio-chemical elements. These natural chemicals can then be turned into a natural form of glycol that can be used to produce all of the products which now rely on glycol made out of petroleum.

Currently, petroleum-based products are used in thousands of daily items and, with rising oil prices, the costs of those items is also increasing. By using beets as a replacement, the end result is sustainable, renewable and greener products for both the grower and the consumer.

“Almost any petro-chemical product can be replaced by processing sugar beets,” said Gerald Third, executive director of the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers Association in Canada.

Their association is at the forefront of growing and harvesting Energy Beets and they are willing to share what they have learned with other sugarbeet associations.

Third explained that Energy Beets are a non-edible hybrid that is larger than the common sugarbeet. These Energy Beets have not been bred to produce sugar. Instead they produce more molecular ethanol than regular beets. That ethanol is a natural alcohol that can be easily converted into bio-chemicals that can be used to replace petro-chemicals.

Energy Beets produce almost twice as much molecular ethanol per acre as corn,” said Third.

Energy Beets also produce improved soil on those acres, making them an excellent crop to use in rotation. Their tap root can penetrate 10 feet into the subsoil, making them efficient in their use or water. The deep roots also improve aeration, drainage and nitrogen levels in deeper soils.

According to Third, Energy Beets are grown the same way as regular sugar beet.

“It’s just a different variety,’’ he added. They grow much larger and they had different organic compounds that have been bred out of purer sugar beets.

“These compounds aid in the processing of the beet for bio-chemicals,” he said. “Almost any petro-chemical can be replaced by processing Energy Beets.”

Those natural chemicals are such a match to the petro-chemicals that Third said the bio-chemicals from Energy Beets can be ‘dropped’ right into the product and easily replace those made out of petroleum.

“In Canada, the acres for sugar beets are shrinking,” said Third.

Determined to get positive returns from the market place, sugarbeet growers have banded together to expand the market for beets and find different uses for the crop.

Currently there are only 30,000 acres of sugarbeets being grown which produced 125,000 metric tons of sugar last year. Since there only so much sugar consumption in Western Canada and only one processor, producers have to either ship their sugar to Eastern Canada or find other ways of using sugar beets.

“In Canada, the growers have a mandate that they will take no government subsidies to determine profitability,’’ he explained. “It needs to be profitable without subsidies. That is a grower’s mandate, not a government mandate.”

To help sugar beet growers gain profitability they decided to invest in other options for sugar beet growers.

“We looked at the ethanol field,” he said.

Ethanol can be made out of sugar beets, but Third said they made the decision that the ethanol field couldn’t absorb any more players.

As part of their on-going effort to increase profitability for sugar beet growers, ASBG has joined forces with S2G BioChemicals, a Vancouver based greentech company to build a plant in southern Alberta that will process Energy Beets and extract bio-chemicals.

This plant will allow producers to grow a profitable rotation crop on those reducing acres while improving soil health, breaking disease and pest cycles and producing something clean and green. It will also allow them to participate in the profits generated by processing their crop into high value added products.

“We’re excited about this,’’ Third said. “This process is clean and green and water neutral.”

And the bio-chemicals produced from sugar beets are renewable.

“We’ve had interest in this from the Ford Motor Company and from Kraft Foods,’’ he added. “They are looking for that environmental push that will improve their position and we have it.”

Best of all, Third said they are excited to share what they have learned with other sugar beet growers and associations.

“We want to create a model that they can use,” he said. “They can call our office and talk with someone about the things we are doing. Any farm or grower organization can adopt the model that we are developing. If a group in Montana wants to look at the viability of building a processing facility for energy beets as a crop alternative, they can look to what we are doing. They don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

For more information about growing and processing energy beets, contact Third by e-mail at gthird@asbg.ca" gthird@asbg.ca

Copyright 2014 The Prairie Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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