Environmental performance of Suiker Unie beet sugar

Environmental performance of Suiker Unie beet sugar

Comparative life cycle assessment of beet sugar, cane sugar and glucose syrup


The difference between the environmental profiles of sugar obtained from sugar beet and sugar cane is a much debated issue. Suiker Unie, a Dutch sugar beet processor, not only produces sugar, but also processes every part of the sugar beet into other products, for example for use in biobased industries. Suiker Unie wanted to obtain a better understanding of the environmental performance of beet sugar and cane sugar. To do this we carried out a comparative life cycle assessment (LCA) in 2019. Eight scenarios were analysed, including the production of beet sugar by Suiker Unie, the production of cane sugar in various countries and the production of glucose syrup (from maize starch), all for the Dutch market. The LCA was performed according to ISO 14044 guidelines and was reviewed by an external panel of three experts.

Life Cycle Assessment

This LCA study included the various production phases in the supply chain, from cultivation right up to regional storage in the Netherlands. This means that the analysis included not only production, but also transport and processing. The production of packaging material was left out of the equation because sugar is a bulk product. Neither did the study include the use of sugar by consumers. It is assumed that these omissions have very little effect on the results.

Environmental performance depends largely on yield per hectare

A key factor in the environmental impact of sugar is the yield per hectare. Total yields per hectare differ for cane sugar and beet sugar: in 2017 these were 9 tonnes/ha and 15 tonnes/ha respectively.

The study reveals that in general the production of beet sugar by Suiker Unie has the best environmental profile. It has a lower impact in the categories climate change, formation of particulate matter, land use and water use compared with cane sugar produced in Brazil and India and glucose syrup. Only cane sugar from India with additional energy production has a lower impact on climate change and particulate matter compared with beet sugar produced by Suiker Unie. The environmental performance of cane sugar depends heavily on the country where it is produced, especially for the impact on climate change and water use, and certainly if emissions from land use change are taken into consideration.

Additional energy production

Additional energy production (surplus energy production) is becoming increasingly relevant in the sugar industry. Energy efficiency is improving and the additional energy production has a big effect on the environmental profile of sugar. In the LCA, the allocation method* generally used for this additional energy production is substitution, as prescribed by ISO 14044. If this additional energy production becomes much more significant, it could be argued that the extra energy production should be economically allocated, which would divide the environmental impact between sugar production and the energy production on the basis of economic value.

*Allocation method: production processes often generate by-products, residual products or energy flows which are then used in other production processes. This means that a production process can have more than one function, in which case the environmental impact can be divided between these different production processes and/or products. This is called allocation. An allocation method determines how the environmental impact is divided between these products and processes.

More information

If you have any questions about this study or are interested in an LCA of your products,
please contact Janjoris van Diepen
at janjoris@blonkconsultants.nl or call +31 (0)182 579970.