Sugar Technology
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April 2011

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Some interesting technology at the end ...


Prices plunged again in March and this time they seem set to remain lower than the 30 ¢/lb mark having spent most of March in the 26 to 28 ¢/lb range.

World Price

There is no clear reason with many mixed messages coming out. India, for instance, allowed the export of 500 000 tons of sugar at a time when it was talking down the current crop to 24 million tons, not much more than the country’s annual demand.


The tightness of supply in the EU is showing itself clearly : it has not only voted for 500 000 tons of out of quote sugar [not that there is that much] to be to be allowed into the internal market but it has also voted for another 300 000 tons of world market sugar to be allowed into the EU duty free.


Kibos Sugar has announced plans for a bagasse paper factory at its Kisumu cane factory. Apparently it has received approval for its environmental impact assessment report : as it is more or less on the shores of Lake Victoria let’s hope that the report was rigorous and that it will be faithfully followed.


The Lowveld is in the news again : this time the ‘farmers’ who were given land stolen from the owners are complaining that their cane is being unfairly graded. Perhaps they need to look back to these news pages when we reported on an investigation by the government which showed that much of their cane was not really suitable for crushing at all.


The Swaziland Sugar Association has revealed plans to increase production by 25% as new irrigation schemes come on line. Broadly speaking the country produces 600 000 t/a but wants to produce 750 000 in five years time. That is major investment. Interestingly, the association is talking of West Africa as a market when i) Tate & Lyle is scouring the world for raw sugar eligible for duty free entry to the EU [and Swazi sugar is] and ii) West Africa is so close to Brazil.


Illovo’s managing director, Graham Clark, has hinted that it is considering ethanol production in South Africa [beyond its small molasses to ethanol unit in Merebank] but that it really needs to wait for the government to publish its longer term biofuels strategy.


The Mauritian crop is suffering from drought despite recent rains : the country is expecting to produce no more than 400 000 tons this year. Ten years ago the norm was more like 600 000 tons. The greater implication might be for the country’s balance of payments though : it relies heavily on bagasse generated electricity and every kWh not produced from bagasse must come from fossil fuel.


Back in 2007 a start-up company called Austcane announced that it was going to establish a sugarcane factory based on the Australian model to make crystal and ethanol. It had even selected the contractor for the project. Last month the company finally received approvals for its factory in the Burdekin and has announced that it intends to be operational in 2013.


Bundaberg is one of the ports used by Queensland to export its sugar but it is a little way up the Burnett river and last year’s floods brought down so much silt that the port was shut down. 120 000 tons of export backlog accumulated before an intensive dredging programme allowed the port to re-open last month.


The fallout from the Tully rejection of the Bunge off continued through March with some fairly acrimonious comments being made. Mackay Sugar – one of those that voted against the sale – has given itself 60 days from the vote to come up with an offer or bow out. Many of the local farmers doubt that Mackay will come up with a comparable offer and some have been very critical of QSL, which is supposed to be just the state’s sugar marketing company, from voting at all.


Fiji has been much in the sugar industry news recently as it makes a determined effort to improve its output encouraged by Tate & Lyle Sugars [now owned by ASR] which is desperate for all the raws it can get. FSC is predicting a 30% increase in cane which sounds remarkably optimistic.

Meanwhile, the government has rejected a call from the IMF to de-nationalise FSC. As it lost $175 million last year, one has to ask who would buy in any case.


Tower Hill eventually restarted on March 7 with just one of its two turbines operational. It is not clear whether the second machine is yet operational. Both had to be taken to Guatemala for cleaning and presumably rebalancing following an accumulation of solids due to carry-over from the boilers.


In February we reported a story which said that sugar recently shipped to the US was ‘well below standard’. The results of the final analysis are now known : the Pol was actually 97.56 but the sugar failed to reach the minimum standards for colour, grain size and dextran.


Despite last month’s somewhat positive report from Cuba, the latest news is that only 800 000 tons has been produced and with less that a month of crop left. The forecast is that the island might just make the 1 million ton mark. On a more positive note we hear that at least some of the sugar coming from Cuba these days is of good quality.


Arcadia Biosciences has licensed its ‘Water Efficiency’ technology to Belgian seed company SES VanderHave in a programme to develop WE sugar beets. We assume that this technology is transgenic. The two companies already have a development programme under way to develop Nitrogen Use Efficient sugar beets.


A US start-up company has reported on its efforts to make commercial quantities of bacterial sugar [which sugar is not specified but the talk is of feedstock for fermentation to ethanol] using a transgenic cyanobacteria [photosynthetic]. Apparently the particular strain produces sugar(s) to increase its internal osmotic pressure in the presence of brine [a very natural defence mechanism]. The company has genetically manipulated it to produce the sugar(s) without the stimulus so that it continuously leaks the sugars into the environment ….

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