Sugar Technology
On-line News

November 2008

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Quite a lot of 'high techncology' this month ...


Jonathan Kingsman is currently forecasting a 4.7 million ton deficit for the year just started, up by nearly 25% on his previous forecast. The biggest unknown in his estimate is India which could have a major impact on his figures as a small percentage change on the current 22 million ton forecast can have a major impact on the deficit.

ISO, on the other hand, is marking down its 2008/9 deficit forecast, now standing at 3.9 million tons. It believes that the value of the Brazilian real is the greatest unknown as that could strongly influence the amount of sucrose diverted to ethanol in Brazil.


The USDA is forecasting that there will be no forfeiture of its sugar industry loans in 2009 so there should be no sugar available for the ethanol producers. The ethanol scheme was introduced two years ago to dump the forfeited sugar from when the price was so [relatively] low.


Work has started on the rebuilding of Imperial Sugar's refinery in Savannah, some eight months after the devastating explosion which claimed 14 lives. The rebuild is scheduled to be complete by mid 2009.


South Florida Water Management District, the proposed purchaser of USSC's operations in order to secure some of the land needed to protect the Everglades, has voted to increase its allowable debt ratio to 30% of annual revenue as an important step in closing the deal. That equates to $2.2 billion.

Some people, however, are questioning whether the deal can happen in the medium term with the current economic climate.


Sweet sorgum is being strongly pushed as a bioenergy fuel in Florida with at least one company pushing ahead with a production plant to produce ethanol. Being an annual crop it is seen as more flexible than sugarcane and able to fit into traditional rotation with less water demand. However, what one doesn't hear is discussion about waste water disposal, a problem that would be common to any distillation plant in South Florida.


Commissioning of the Skeldon II factory is at last under way - something like four years [from memory] since the Chinese contractor was awarded the contract. While visiting the new factory, the Minister of Agriculture revealed that, as we surmised last month, the government is not happy with the performance of Booker Tate. In fact he indicated that the BT contract was due to be terminated six months after Skeldon is commissioned but then he implied that this may no longer happen.


British Sugar’s plans for refining at its Cantley beet factory out of campaign are being threatened by local opposition to its planning application. The factory, half way between Norwich and Great Yarmouth, is over 19 km from the coast as the crow flies and it is proposing to bring the raw sugar in by road vehicles which would have to drive down narrow country lanes.

The factory, established in 1912 and therefore the oldest of the UK's beet factories, can refine at about 1400 t/d and is expected to refine for about 165 days a year to produce up to 230 000 tons. The conversion project is described as a factory upgrade and includes a '50% reduction in oil burning to reduce CO2 emissions by 50%'. That sounds like something which should be done whether the conversion takes place or not.


The bidding for Ebro Puleva's sugar division closed towards the end of October with British Sugar, SŁdzucker and Eurosugar [a consortium of ED&F Man and Cristal Union] being named as the three main potential buyers. The market is talking about a price of perhaps € 550 million [$700 million] compared to the earlier rumours of a € 400 million offer from a bank. Danisco sold its sugar division to Nordzucker for € 750 million in July.


The second refinery in Lagos - the 700 000 t/a BUA refinery reported here in the past - started commissioning last month and is expected to be at design capacity by the year end.


Marromeu and its sugar mill [part owned by the French sugar group Terreos] have finally been reconnected to Beira by rail, some 25 years after terrorist activity completely destroyed the line. Admittedly the trains are still test trains but the company expects to export 60 000 tons of sugar by train by the end of the year.


Pakistan is concerned that [again] its millers are not paying the cane farmers so they are switching to alternative crops. The government is talking about a 30% drop in production in its southerly Sindh province this current year. The country is the 5th largest sugarcane producer in the world : it produced 4.7 million tons of sugar from cane last year.

It isn't just the economy that is in trouble in Pakistan : there is a fundamental water shortage. The Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock has therefore asked that the cane sugar industry in the centre and south switch half of their feedstock from cane to beet on the basis that beet needs less water than cane per unit of sucrose. Nobody in the Ministry seems to understand the process.


Mackay Sugar has closed its Pleystowe mill on the basis that there is not enough cane being grown to justify operating four factories. Presumably the operating cost of Pleystowe was higher than the additional transport cost of moving the cane to one or other of the remaining factories.


Syngenta, the Swiss agri-chemicals giant announced a new technique for cane planting at the end of October. The claim is for the ability to plant 40 mm rather than say 400 mm setts with a view to saving 15% of the planting costs so that, for instance, you can afford to plant more frequently and reduce reliance of poorer performing ratoons. No details are available but it sounds as if it is just a protective treatment for the cut ends of a sett that will consist of little more than the node. You can read more in the Syngenta press release.


Germany's Max Planck Institute has announced a new approach to cellulose hydrolysis. The cellulosic feedstock is first dissolved in an 'ionic liquid' [organic salts that are liquid at room temperature] to break it down to short single strands of polysaccharide. The polysaccharide is then washed out by adding water, the ionic solvent being recovered for re-use. An enzymic hydrolysis is still required so the process is really a pre-treatment.

Meanwhile the Danish company Novozymes has won a $12.3 million, two and a half year grant from the US Department of Energy to investigate novel cellulolytic enzymes. The company has to match the grant dollar for dollar.


Various parts of the US beet industry have been harvesting and, by now, processing Roundup Ready beets for the first time. In general farmers seem enthusiastic with one Eastern Montana farmer quoted as averaging 29 tons/acre [65 metric tons/ha] and 18.3% sucrose content. Unfortunately his previous years' figures were not given.

As much as 95% of the beet grown in Idaho this year is estimated to be Roundup Ready.

The mass introduction of transgenic beet has resulted in uproar among environmental groups with protests ranging from an increased level in glyphosate in sugar to the creation of 'superweeds' resistant to Roundup. The former will no doubt be the subject of much investigation while the latter completely ignores the biennial nature of the crop so the lack of flowers will avoid cross-pollination.

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