Food Chemistry

Carbohydrate Biorefinery

The theme ‘Carbohydrate Biorefinery’ studies the changes in carbohydrates during biomass conversion processes. These processes are not only limited to the more well-known biorefinery’s existing to produce food, fuels, and value-added chemicals from biomass, but also relating projects e.g. biomass composting, or feed digestibility (non-starch polysaccharides) are part of this theme.

Description of theme 

Biomass carbohydrates are in general grouped in three classes: cellulose, hemicelluloses and/ or pectin. They contribute to the plant cell wall architecture, which influences physical characteristics like toughness (and degradability), and water binding capacity. The aim is to obtain a better understanding of the chemical fine-structure of the cell wall architecture’s network, and, hereby, a better understanding of how to influence changes in biomass architecture and carbohydrate degradation.

In general, various classes of carbohydrates (e.g. polysaccharides) are (specifically) extracted from the starting biomass studied, and characterized by chemical parameters such as the sugar composition, the sugar linkage composition, the type and amount of substituents on the carbohydrates present. Similar parameters are studied of the biomass after combinations of physic/ mechanical, thermo-chemical, or enzymatic based treatments. Hereto, the laboratory of Food Chemistry is well equipped with for example analytical techniques like HPAEC, mass spectrometry, capillary electrophoresis and NMR.

In carbohydrate biorefinery, structural composition studies are often closely related with the study of commercial and single-activity hemicellulases, pectinases, or esterases (enzymes). Not only their mode-of-action, and their effect on the chemical fine structure of the carbohydrates, but also their effect on cell wall architecture is of importance.

Typical biomasses studied are remaining products from cereal and sugar based industry, like wheat or corn bran, straw or stover, sugar beet pulp; by-products from oil-industry, like rapeseed meal; other biomasses, like wood chips and perennial grasses.

Research Projects