Project data
Authors Joshua M. Pearce
Completed 2021
Instance of Resilient food
alternative food
Download Open Know How Manifest
Page data
Type Project
Keywords hunger, Repurposing of factories, Sugar from lignocellulosic biomass, Resilient food. Food security, Global catastrophic risk, Existential risk
SDG Sustainable Development Goals SDG02 Zero Hunger
SDG12 Responsible consumption and production
Authors Joshua M. Pearce
Published 2021
License CC-BY-SA-4.0
Affiliations Free Appropriate Sustainable Technology
Language English (en)
Impact Number of views to this page. Views by admins and bots are not counted. Multiple views during the same session are counted as one. 613

Producing sugar from lignocellulosic biomass is a promising resilient food solution to counter the near-total global failure of food production due to the agricultural collapse that would likely follow an abrupt sunlight reduction catastrophe such as a nuclear winter, a supervolcanic eruption, or a large asteroid or comet impact.

This study examines how quickly edible sugar production could be ramped up globally by repurposing pulp and paper mills, sugarcane biorefineries, corn biorefineries, and breweries for lignocellulosic sugar production. A sub-unit component comparison to the NREL 2017 Biochemical Sugar Model indicates that 61%, 62%, 85% and 38% of ISBL unit components are present, respectively. Fast construction methods were studied to analyze how this and other industrial foods could be rapidly leveraged in a catastrophe.

Results suggest that the world’s current sugar demand could quickly be fulfilled by repurposing pulp and paper mills for lignocellulosic sugar production, given 5 months of production ramp-up and 24/7 construction. This method could reduce construction time to an estimated 32% of the original at an increased labor cost of 1.47 times, resulting in sugar production beginning 5 months after the catastrophe at a retail cost of $0.82 USD/kg. This could not only contribute a significant share of the food requirement after the catastrophe (∼28% within the first year), but also be key to preventing global starvation between the time at which global food storages run dry and other resilient food solutions can scale up significantly.

This study aims to serve as the basis for more comprehensive scenario analyses. More research is needed to characterize material and labor constraints to fast response in more depth; repurposing and fast construction pilot studies and food safety studies are recommended.


  • Throup, J., Martínez, J.B.G., Bals, B., Cates, J., Pearce, J.M. and Denkenberger, D.C., Rapid repurposing of pulp and paper mills, biorefineries, and breweries for lignocellulosic sugar production in global food catastrophes. Food and Bioproducts Processing 131, 2022, 22-39. Academia OA

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Energy Conservation Energy Policy Industrial SymbiosisLife Cycle Analysis Materials Science Open SourceMedical Photovoltaic Systems Solar CellsSustainable Development Sustainability Education

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Highlights[edit | edit source]

  • Existing infrastructure was assessed for repurposing to lignocellulosic sugar production.
  • Pulp & paper factories showed 85% component match with the NSM reference plant.
  • Lignocellulosic sugar could fulfill the global sugar demand in 5 months after catastrophe strikes.
  • The cost of sugar produced this way is estimated at $0.82/kg in the nuclear winter scenario.
  • Factory construction time can be reduced to 32% for a 1.47 times increase in labor cost.

See also[edit | edit source]

Feeding Everyone No Matter What

Additional Information[edit source]

Davos IDRC Conference[edit source]

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