The global population is expected to rise to 9 billion in 2050.1 This massive growth leads to a higher demand for food, water and energy. The increasing demand for energy, 50 percent in the next decades1, leads to a higher carbon footprint and hence to an even bigger strain on the environment. The need to mitigate use of fossil fuels has led to a rise in demand for bioenergy.2 Whereas today mostly ‘first generation' (1G) food crops such as corn, wheat and sugarcane are used for the production of bio-fuel, a switch to non-food lignocellulosic biomass (2nd generation biomass) will be needed to produce fuels, energy and materials in order not to strain food security in the future. In 2008, about 15 percent of global corn production was used for production of biofuels.3 The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates food production will have to increase by 60 percent to feed a population of 9 billion.1 This will create competition between food agriculture and non-food agriculture, which makes feeding future generations even more complex.
Finding a solution for this competition demands a paradigm shift. As FAO stated, it is important to move from the food ‘versus' fuel debate to a food ‘and' fuel debate.1 Key is using natural resources in a more flexible and less conventional way. A big step forward in commercializing these unconventional methods can be realized by using non-food biomass for food applications.
A good example of open-minded thinking is using second-generation biomass for producing materials and fuels. First-generation biomass is defined as crops which are also suitable for food, such as the corn cobs providing starch, proteins and oils for human consumption. Second-generation biomass is defined as crops which are not suitable for human food, thus waste, such as the corn stem and leaves which is lignocellulose material, consisting of hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin. Cellulose contains a lot of energy, yet is inadequate for human food consumption as the human gastrointestinal tract can't digest cellulose. Using cellulose to produce biofuels or other biobased materials therefore doesn't compete with food supply and thus contributes to food security.4 This gives 2G biomass tremendous potential for eliminating the competition between food and non-food. As mentioned above, an unorthodox look is needed to deal with the food ‘versus' fuel debate. Knowing the sugar composition of 2G biomass makes it interesting to take this debate one step further: what if 2G sugars could be used in food production? In short, can the dogmas be put aside and is the world ready to use non-food biomass for producing food?
Currently the food industry uses first generation sugars. Take sweeteners as an example; manufacturers have gradually replaced sucrose by glucose-fructose syrup also known as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Reason for this change is HFCS is made out of corn, which is significantly cheaper than sugars from a sugar beet. Furthermore HFCS offers a lot of other advantages: higher preservability, easy to blend with liquids and moreover it retains its sweetness far better than regular sucrose.5 Since HFCS is obtained from corn, a reliable, sustainable and available substance, the price is relatively low and stable. Due to this, its presence was quickly accepted in the food industry and use has increased. In the USA in the last 15 years 30 tons of fructose was produced from corn starch. Initially HFCS was used in soda drinks such as Coca Cola and Pepsi, however it now is a very important sweetener in food as well. 6 High Fructose syrups (HFS) produced from 2G glucose (cellulose) instead from 1G (starch) has a lot of benefits: as HFCS is used in very big quantities7, enabling the use of 2G glucose leads to reduced demands on food agriculture and will thus contribute to improved future food security. Not only can 2G sugars be used as sweeteners, they can substitute every 1G glucose, fructose or oligosaccharide such as binders, thickeners or prebiotics.
Question is whether 2G sugars could or should be used in the food industry. Avantium, a chemical technology company situated in Amsterdam, has developed a method to obtain high quality oligosaccharides, glucose and fructose from cellulose. Currently using it for non-food purposes only, they are now interested to investigate the potential use of 2G sugars in the food industry. According to the triple-P model of Elkington (found in appendix l) it possibly could have great potential. The balance between People, Planet and Profit is preserved better than when only using 1G sugars.
While 2G sugar technologies have a lot of potential, they need to break through dogmas and conventional ways of thinking. Using 2G sugars forces authorities and companies to look differently at the use of non-food and food biomass. The technology is available, however, is the world ready to use non-food biomass in food applications? And if yes: what are the needs and views that positively or negatively influence the potential demand for 2G sugars in the food industry?
The objective of this research is to map the perceptions and needs that might influence the potential demand of second-generation sugars in the food industry, to obtain better knowledge on the market possibilities.
The main goal of this study was to map the needs and views of using sugars obtained from non-food biomass in food and beverages. This research was done to map possibilities for 2G in the food industry, as 2G is currently only used for non-food.
2.1 Study design
This being a totally unexplored subject until now, the study is descriptive in nature. As this dissertation is descriptive it was important to obtain qualitative information.
2.2 Research method
To answer the question ‘ what positive or negative results occur after analysing 2G sugars with the Triple-P model?', secondary (desk) research was conducted and forms the part of the literature review presented in this thesis.
Primary research was carried out to fill the research gaps identified during the secondary research. This chapter presents and explains how both primary and secondary research was carried out.
Search terms that were used for conducting the desk research are:
Sr. no Search terms Related terms
1. Sugar Sugar OR Glucose OR sucrose OR oligomer OR Saccharides OR fructose OR levulose OR Furucton OR Nevulose OR Krystar OR fructosteril OR laevoral OR dextrose OR Glucopyranose OR Dextropur OR Glucolin OR Xylose
2. Sugar alcohols Threitol OR Ribitol OR Xylitol OR dulcitol OR Iditol OR Maltitol OR Lactitol OR Isomalt OR Erythritol OR Glycerolot OR Roferose OR Glycerol OR Arabitol
3. Non-food Biomass Cellulose OR lignocellulose OR Lignin OR Wood OR grass OR Non-food OR Agricultural Waste OR Birch OR root OR Trees OR stalk OR corncobs OR pomace
4. Foodstuffs Food OR (Ice cream) OR Sweetener OR Cookie OR Candy OR candies OR Confectionery OR (Chewing gum) OR Snack OR Foodstuff OR beer OR Beverage OR chocolate OR baked OR lollipop OR gum OR coffee OR meal OR "food additive" OR "food-grade" OR "processed food" OR "packaged food" OR "dietary food"
Sr. No. Non patent: Search strategy Nu. Hits
1. Sugar + Non Food Biomass + Foodstuffs
2. Sugar Alcohols + Non-food Biomass + Foodstuffs
3. Non-food Biomass + Sugar + Hydrolysis + Foodstuffs
4. Foodstuffs + Cellulosic Sugars
The search produced 400 hits, after removing duplicates 278 articles were left. These were selected on usability by reading titles, subject and abstract. Articles that were written in other languages than Dutch and English were removed as well. After the selection process 26 articles seemed to have potential. After further analysis seven articles were actual relevant for use in the literature study these were used in the Triple-P literature analyses.
In addition to the desk research, a field research was conducted to answer the following questions:
- What impact would the use of second-generation sugars as ingredients in foods and beverages have on the food vs. materials debate?
- What views do companies have concerning the use of non-food as food?
- What views do companies have concerning the use of food as non-food?
- What considerations do companies make in determining whether or not to use 2G sugars?
- What needs could be addressed by using second-generation sugars as ingredients in foods and beverages?
Semi-structured interviews were held with key informants to allow open two-way conversation. Furthermore this type of interview gives qualitative and good comparable information data. It was important to get reliable conclusions hence the minimum number of interviews was seven. Contacts of Avantium were used to selectively identify subjects for the semi-structured interviews.
2.3 Selective sampling of key informants
Because this terrain has never before been explored it was important to gain information from different angles, this is very well reflected in the sub-questions. Therefore it was necessary that the subjects of this study are from different fields of activity, being:
- Innovation, R&D and Marketing professionals in the food industry
- Academic researchers in the food and beverages area
- Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority
- Consumers union
The 25 participants were selected on the basis of their expertise, work and available contact information. It was decided to assemble two groups. The first group contained 13 academic researchers and NGO employees, the second group consisted of 12 professionals from the food industry.
All subjects received an email beforehand with a request for the interview and an explanation about second-generation carbohydrates. Attached to the email was a link to a small survey with eight scale questions. This brief survey was meant to make the subjects think about second-generation carbohydrates ahead of the interview and form an opinion. Answers provided additional insights in the attitude of subject in question. This made interviewing more personal and allowed the interviewer to ask more thoroughly about certain opinions and thoughts. The full text of the mail and the scale questions can be found in appendix I.
The mail to potential candidates was subjected to a pre-test. Two employees of Avantium functioned as trial subjects. They received the email and survey and filled it out. Their feedback was used to finalize the mail and survey, this was then sent out to twenty five potential candidates.
Also the interview was pre-tested with the employees of Avantium. During the interview the question and interview time were tested After the interview, they were evaluated. Doing so the questions were perfected. All this testing led to optimized preparation for the interview and thus for the research.
The interviews took approximately 30 minutes and were only held with the participants who also completed the survey. The main themes of the interview were:
- The use of food for non-food
- The use of non-food for food
- The strengths and weaknesses of this concept
- The benefits for food and beverage companies using 2G carbohydrates
- The way of producing 2G carbohydrates
- The source of 2G carbohydrates
- Consumer's acceptance and communication
- The best opportunities in the food industry
- The remaining hurdles
The complete interview schedule can be found in appendix II.
2.6 Data collection procedure
Because of the nature of interviewing it was appropriate to prepare questions beforehand. Using this technique allowed to have an open conversation yet have a proper foundation.. On the 10th of November 2015 all potential participants were contacted for the first time. Supervisors each emailed their contacts with the announcement they would be contacted by students. Two days later the potential participants were mailed for the second time with the request if they wanted to participate. Participants who didn't respond after a week were mailed again with a reminder. Responding participants filled in the survey and were asked to participate in a semi-structured interview that would last approximately 30 minutes. The interview scheme can be found in appendix III.
2.7 Data processing and analysis
The semi-structured interviews were recorded on a voice recorder and afterwards transcribed. ‘Atlas' was used to decode the interviews. First open coding was conducted. All the articles were read and the text was analysed, categorised and described per subject. Afterwards Axial coding was conducted, herby codes were related to each other. Furthermore codes were combined as one new code. After all the coding ...... codes remained. The analysis were conducted by comparing the outcomes of the interviews. Since the semi-structured interviews were held with a few fixed subjects of conversation its (dis) similarities could be established. Using these findings as a framework, conclusions can be drawn, these can be found in the chapter 4 of this thesis. From the retrieved opinions, additional information was retrieved, such as further discussion points. With help of these discussion points, views of different people that are involved can be highlighted. This again brings out the bottleneck/impediments.
3. Research results
3.1 Literature Research
The Hanze Library, Pubmed, Google Scholar and Picarta were used to conduct the literature study. Keywords used during the search were: Triple-P, Triple Bottom Line, Biomass, Cellulose, Sugar, Glucose, Carbohydrates, Food, Sustainable, Food Security, Biofuels, Weight, Second Generation, Agriculture.
Table 3 Inclusion- en exclusioncriteria
Inclusion criteria Exclusion criteria
Relevance on account of screening Title and abstract Conclusion is outside of the scope
Dutch or English full text available Outcome not fully described
Research design consisted of a Systematic review, Meta-analysis Randomised controlled trial or Observational study Research is not valid, reliable, or other shortcomings
Timeframe 1/1/2000-1/1/2016 No clear record of type biomass or sugar/sweetener
After the selection process 26 articles seemed to have potential. Not all were actually relevant for the literature study due to the fact they had to fit the three P's of the Triple-P model. Seven articles were selected that met the requirements of validity, reliability and time frame. Also articles from ‘Rijksoverheid', UR Wageningen and dossier ‘Duurzaam Ondernemen' were used as references. Furthermore two books were used to help analyse the Triple-P model.
3.1.1 The Triple-P Bottom Line model
Over the last ten years sustainability gained more attention from companies, governments and non-profit organizations. It is hard to measure the degree to which companies are sustainable; as a result the Triple-P Bottom Line model was developed by John Elkingson. Before the model was introduced environmentalist wrestled with measures of, and frameworks for, sustainability.8 The framework incorporates three dimensions of performance: social, environmental and financial, shortly People, Planet, Profit. 9
“ The TBL captures the essence of sustainability by measuring the impact of an organization's activities on the world, including both its profitability and shareholders values and its social, human and environmental capital “.10
There is no common unit of measure for the Triple-P framework. This can be viewed as a strength because it allows a user to adapt the model to different entities, different projects and different geographic boundaries. The entity, type of project and geographical scope will decide what measures to include.
Striving for sustainable development in the Social dimension People are the main focus point. Examples of social variables are human equality, well-being and health. Fairtrade can also be seen as a social dimension and can help sustainable developments.
Sustainable environment is key in the dimension Planet, this is generated if people take care of the earth they are living on. Achieving a sustainable environment goes hand in hand with reducing the ecological footprint and reduction of carbon dioxide emission. Other example are reducing waste, recycling, sustainable product development and water management.
Sustainable cooperation is the focus point in the dimension Profit. The aim is to strive for optimal economical welfare for current- and future generations.9
Figure 1 The Triple Bottom Line Model
3.1.2 Second generation carbohydrates and People
Nutrition is a basic need allowing people to survive. Since people are not able to digest cellulose containing plants they started eating food that contained starch. In order to provide enough food, a great amount of food production is needed11. However, a lot of valuable agricultural land gets lost as a result of ground erosion. Furthermore a lot of water and pesticides are needed to maintain the crops. Due to the growing world population and the growing food consumption an almost unbearable pressure lies upon modern agriculture. It therefore is important to firstly focus on food consumption instead of using food crops for non-food applications. To increase food production and create economical stability the development of sustainable agriculture based on perennial plants is a suitable solution. These plants produce more biomass per hectare with minimal input. As a result human food, animal feed, biofuels and other biobased material can be produced from non-food biomass. 12 The use of second-generation carbohydrates does not obstruct food intake since non-digestible biomass is used. Due to this fact second-generation carbohydrates do not inhibit food security.
Despite the sustainable character of 2G the ‘end product' is still glucose. It bares the same qualities and structures and thus (in big quantities) can have negative effects on consumers. Overweight and obesity are possible outcomes.13
3.1.3 Second generation carbohydrates and Planet
Approximately half of the plant-based material consists of lignocellulose, this is a combination of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. This is the most available biomass on earth. Using this material creates a sheer inexhaustible source with little to no risk of shortages. Until now only a small amount of the available lignocellulosic material is used as side-product for in agroforstery. The remainder is agricultural waste like straw, crop-, forest , leaf- or food waste. Worldwide, this leads to billions of tons of second-generation biomass.14 Using cellulose results in use of waste, which has a positive effect on sustainability and environment, the use is co2 neutral. This can be seen as a very positive aspect of second-generation carbohydrates.14
Yet a few leafs and stems nowadays are used for animal feed. It seems very important not to cross any existing waste streams. It also has to be noted that some of the agricultural waste is left on the land to rot and feed the land.15
3.1.4 Second- generation and Profit
Techniques for Biorefinery by which part of plants that are not yet used can be processed into human food or animal feed were named as possible breakthrough for food security.16 With this method food security as well as economical wellbeing can be accomplished. An increasing number of consumers gets aware of the importance of sustainability. Consumers that decide whether or not to buy a product based on sustainability have increased by 42%.17 The use of 2G carbohydrates anticipates on the needs of a generation who pays more attention towards sustainability and environment. The use of a sheer inexhaustible resource benefits the society, and creates efficiency and continuity. Furthermore leafs and stems contain the same amount of carbohydrates as starch from grains.18 This ensures that companies do not have to increase production for the same amount of carbohydrates.
Although the expectations of Bio refinery's are big, it is a double-edged sword. Biorefinery enables to obtain more from biomass, yet, as consequence it is easier to produce more due to low pricing, therefore demand will rise.16 Despite the fact cellulose will not lead to physical shortage a political shortage could occur in form of export restrictions.19
3.2 Field Research
For the field research a total of 25 respondents were approached. The complete selection procedure is described in ‘Methods'. Respondents came from different segments: 13 Academic researchers and NGO employees were selected to participate. They all specialised on the field of Human Nutrition & Health, Biology, Agro-technology and Biobased research. Within this group eight people filled out the survey and four participated in the interviews. Four respondents did fill in the survey, yet did not participate in the interview indicated not to have enough time for an interview.
Furthermore, 12 professionals in the food industry were selected, all from different companies and with different specialities: R&D, Product Safety Authority and food companies, sugar companies and marketing and development. Within this group five respondents filled in the survey and four took part in the interviews.
3.2.1 Online Survey
Leading up to the interview to the interviews thirteen respondents filled out the online survey. All 13 participants agreed or strongly agreed that companies have responsibilities towards a better environment. Twelve out of thirteen agreed or strongly agreed companies have responsibilities towards consumers health. It seems opinions are most divided about the question whether second-generation carbohydrates can contribute to improved food security.
Figure 2 Answers to online survey questions
The last question of the survey asked in what kind of applications second-generation carbohydrates could best be used. Participants could choose between: a) Sweeteners b) Binders c) Fibres d) Other, please specify. Three out of thirteen respondents thought sweeteners was the best option for 2G. Five respondents mentioned different applications than sweeteners, binders or fibre.
Table 5 Options 2G carbohydrates applications as stated by the respondents (n=13)
Opportunities for using 2G in the food industry Frequency
Food acids 1
Health promoting sugars 1
Wide ranges 3
3.2.2 Results Qualitative Research
The qualitative research consisted of 8 in-depth interviews with food and chemical experts. Together with the literature review, the qualitative research was carried out to add to our understanding the possible potential second-generation carbohydrates could have. Coding schemes were developed to visualize and analyse the results of the interviews.
Use food for non-food applications
Attitudes toward the use of food for non-food applications differ. It was mentioned four times that this was a positive thing and needed to be done in spite of the food shortage. The use of food for non-food applications could even seen as a positive development, giving people more security.
“…it possibly could be an improvement for food supply and food security. If there is to be a failed harvest the crops meant for non-food applications can be used for food applications.” – Participant 1
Five respondents thought it not suitable to use food for non-food applications. Manly they mentioned food should always come first. Next to this they stated with the growing world population it is irresponsible to use valuable land for non-food applications.
“…it is a really bad idea…We had predictions concerning the production of food, now it is apparent these prognosis are different than expected. For example erosion of soil, mostly in Africa, is much worse than calculated. Shortly you just can't use agriculture ground for non-food applications, you just can't.” – Participant 5
Use food for non-food applications Reasons Frequency
Positive reactions 1. Enough agricultural land 1
2. Less dependent on petroleum 1
3. Increase food security 1
Negative reactions 1. Ethical problem 2
2. Growing world population 4
3. Not enough agricultural land 2
4. Food security 3
Table 6 Positive and negative reactions towards the use of food for non-food
Use non-food for food applications
Although all respondents stated second-generation was an innovative solution and could have potential, two respondents pointed out that it possibly was not the best solution to strengthen food security.
“…I think there is going to be a bigger demand for non-processed food, so I think that it would have more potential to think of smart solutions for more non-processed food. And this is an example of extremely processed food” – Participant 3
Nevertheless most respondents thought second-generation carbohydrates were a sustainable and a progressive development. Mentioned was the improvement it could have on food security and the sheer inexhaustible source of cellulose on earth.
“…the advantage of course is that you have a sheer inexhaustible source of cellulose that is rather cheap. That is really an advantage, and probably cheaper, well, eventually cheaper than 1G solutions.” – Participant 3
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