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March 2005

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Perhaps the most interesting news for sugar technologists last month was Tongaat Hulett’s announcement that it was proceeding with its direct white project. Most of the other news was somewhat mundane.


Tongaat Hulett has announced that it is building a semi-production scale plant at Felixton for its direct white process. The process, which TH claim produces ‘refined sugar’ direct from crushing cane, should not be confused with ‘Blanco Directo’ as it does not use sulphitation.

The technology makes extensive use of membranes and ion exchange resins and was proven at pilot scale by running part of it at Felixton and the rest at the Durban Refinery. At that stage, well over a year ago, the project was then shelved so it is good to see it under way again. This next phase will require a ZAR 50 million [US$ 8 million] investment. If it is shown to be economically successful then it will substantially change the shape of the cane sugar industry although it will still leave the problem of economic bulk shipment for food grade white sugar.


In what looks like the start of a move towards the ‘Brazilian’ model, the government of the Philippines has announced that it intends to bring in a law mandating “the use of ethanol as an alternative transport fuel” on an urgent basis. It is unclear whether this refers to blending or the use of anhydrous ethanol.


The month saw a wide range of signals [positive and negative] with respect to the world price. The price at the close of the month was still hovering around 9 US¢/lb.

On a negative front, India is predicting that this year’s crop of only 12.5 million tons equivalent will be the bottom of the trough with 2005-06 bouncing back to about 18 million tons, much closer to the peak achieved in previous years. The reasons – improved weather and more planting – seem logical.

On the other hand, across the border in Pakistan, the crop has finished very early and the shortfall is about 0.3 to 0.4 million tons.

It is Brazil where particularly mixed signals occurred though : the Cosan group, the world’s largest producer, predicted the price to rise as sugar was diverted into ethanol while ISO predicted that this crop would see an additional 30 million tons of cane [say 3 million tons equivalent] in the country. It is difficult to see how more than that amount of cane can be diverted to ethanol however.


It was good to see that the USSC labour negotiations, following closely behind the short strike at Okeelanta, were successfully concluded last month. The new contract will last for four years and includes arrangements for handling the redundancies created by the planned closure of the Bryant mill.

Meanwhile, the strike at Yonkers refinery which started before Christmas, is still going on and seems unlikely to end in the near future.


President Lula of Brazil found himself having to defend his country’s complaint to the WTO about the EU sugar regime when he visited Guyana last month. One suspects that realised that he was on a losing wicket as he offered to help introduce ethanol technology to redress the balance lost by a reduced EU sugar price.


The Madhvani group has confirmed that about $40 million will be injected into Kakira over the next few years. Much of the money will go into two new 60 t/h boilers and associated turboalternators so that the factory can export about 18 MW to the grid during crop. It is expected that the equipment will be supplied from India.


The group of southern mills on Mauritius is expecting a major rationalisation combined with a new export co-generation station. The current hold-up is getting the PPA signed but once that happens it can be expected that Savannah will be completely re-furbished and expanded and that both Mon Trésor Mon Désert and Riche en Eau will close. The French company SIDEC is involved in the new power station so it will be similar to their northern unit at Bellevue.

With respect to the north, the long expected closure of Mon Loisir has still not been approved by the government. When that happens though, it looks as if Bellevue will try and claim some or all of the cane even though Mon Loisir is owned by and close to the factory at FUEL.


It Coca Cola has agreed to offer a “Diet Coke Sweetened with Splenda” which will feature the Splenda logo on the label but it is not giving up its Nutrasweet version at this stage, it will run both products in parallel.

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