Products from Starch and Cellulose

Many crops are grown for their carbohydrate content as feedstock, rather than for their food value. In the EU this includes wheat, maize, sugar beet and potatoes. In other parts of the world, for example the US, corn is commonly grown.

Starch is found in plants, and is their main energy store. It has a complex structure based on linked glucose rings, and is extracted from plants as industrial starch.

Although many traditional starch products have faced stiff competition from synthetic alternatives, interest remains high because of its renewable nature.

Starch is also an important source of glucose, Opens glucose pop-up again from which many other materials can be synthesised.


Cellulose derived from wood pulp has been used for many years in the manufacture of polymers and other products. This includes:

cellulose acetate fibres for fabric, photographic film, spectacle frames
cellulose butyrate screwdriver handles, pneumatic tubing
rayon a silk substitute, manufactured from wood pulp
4-oxopentanoic acid (levulinic acid)
used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, plastics and rubbers, and the fuel additive methyl tetrahydrofuran (MTHF)Newer processes are now available that can make use of cellulose-containing waste from paper-making, paper recycling and agricultural residues

Newer cellulose fibres
In 1991 a new cellulose-based fibre with the generic name lyocell arrived on the market, developed by Courtaulds as Tencel®. Although manufactured from cellulose, like rayon, it is structurally sufficiently unique to be regarded as a new class of fibre.
The product and manufacturing process are particularly significant for several reasons:

  • The feedstock is wood pulp from managed forests
  • Manufacture uses a non-toxic, biodegradable solvent in a closed loop process - over 99% is re-used on each cycle of the loop
  • Lyocell is biodegradable and recyclable

Lyocell is used in a wide range of clothing and household textiles.

diagram: products from starch

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