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Developing uses for sugar-cane bagasse: Biotechnology applied to the paper industry

The principal raw material used for manufacturing paper pulp is wood. However, growing demand in the paper industry, at a time of dwindling forest resources, have compelled the sector to turn to other sources of raw materials, such as cereal straw, reeds, bamboo or sugar-cane bagasse.

This residue, obtained after crushing of the cane, is already used as a source of paper-making fibres in producer countries (in South America and India for example, where it represents 20 % of the paper production). The industry absorbs 10% of the world bagasse production. This material offers several advantages: rapid growth of the sugar-cane plant, widespread cultivation, lower energy and bleaching chemical requirements for bagasse refining. Such a process is also a convenient means of usefully clearing this voluminous sugar refinery waste product: indeed, one tonne of refined sugar results in two tonnes of bagasse. However, whatever the raw material used, paper pulp has to undergo processing stages of delignification and bleaching to turn it into high-strength and durable paper. In some countries the chemical processing involved still entail the use of chlorine, dangerous for both health and the environment.

Research scientists from the IRD and INRA studied an alternative, biologically based, solution. Laboratory experimentation enabled them to develop a non-polluting process, which at the same time yields a delignifying enzyme, laccase, from a culture of a filamentous fungus and effectively recycles the sugar-cane bagasse. Its principle lies in the specific metabolic characteristics of this fungus, Pycnoporus cinnabarinus, which produces laccase naturally. This enzyme breaks down the lignin in the fibres of bagasse used as substrate in these trials, transforming this waste product, after mechanical refining, into paper pulp. As the lignin progressively disappears, the pulp obtained becomes bleached. This pulp can be used as it is to make cardboard, but it must unde
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Source:Institut de Recherche Pour le D茅veloppement


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