Can personal care items such as tissue, paper towels and toilet paper, products with robust markets be made from perennial grasses?
Archer Daniels Midland Company and CenUSA Bioenergy are taking on a new chapter in the sustainability and profitability of native grasses by testing the pulping potential of switchgrass and other perennial grasses. This research collaboration could pave the way for more perennial grass-based personal products rather than relying strictly on wood, which can result in deforestation.
“We have potential commercial applications for the pulp and the lignin but the value proposition will look a lot better if we can take some of the other streams in and improve the value of those,” said Tom Binder, ADM’s senior vice president of research and Chair of CenUSA’s advisory board.
This research will help determine whether or not perennial grasses can be a cost effective alternative to today’s wood-based pulp used for most personal care products, and is part of CenUSA new Commercialization Objective launched in August 2014.
“We are going to be competing against a very old industry - the paper pulp industry, so the new technology has to have the right cost advantages in order to compete,” Binder said.
To date, ADM has tested switchgrass and corn stover as well as other materials. Although they all can be used to produce pulp for personal care products, ADM is searching for the most efficient and cost effective feedstock.
“We will be comparing the lignin yield and the cellulose pulp quality and yield from several different sources,” Binder said.
The research may also provide direction to plant breeders and answer whether high cellulose content or lignin content is ideal for perennial grass commercial applications.
The results could open the doors for more commercial opportunities and venues to use perennial grass pulp, a goal of tremendous importance to CenUSA and its funding agency the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.