Sugar Technology
On-line News

December 2009

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The holiday lull seems to have started early but what there is, is worth reading :


The world price was again stable in November, essentially trading in a narrow band between 22 and 24 USą/#. Most analysts seem to be predicting some form of correction but they don’t necessarily agree as to the extent of the correction or the cause. One poor analyst predicted an ‘explosive’ price change ‘by November 30’, saying that it could be either up to 27 or down to 20 USą/# but it would happen .... hmm.

The keys have to be Brazil and India of course. Brazil is reported to have 58 million tons of standing cane following last crop’s heavy rains [more cane than most countries grow!] so there is talk of that being crushed during an early start to next crop. The problem with that is that the cane will be poor so most factories will be tempted to divert it all to ethanol.

The predictions for India are that it will produce more in the current crop year but only 2 million tons more sugar so there will still be a deficit of 6 million tons and the country must have used up a lot of its reserves : the government released 1.7 million tons for November alone. One prediction is that it will need to import at least 3 million tons in 2010. This year’s cane – what there is of it – is reported to be of high quality with good agricultural yields.

Looking further forward, ISO is predicting a small surplus [1 million tons at best] for 2010/11 when it is expecting India to produce about 24 million tons. Whether farmers do indeed switch back to cane is a moot point though : one group in the north set fire to some imported raws last month saying that they wanted still higher cane prices.


The freeze that we reported last month seems to be worse than predicted, at least in the Big Horn basin where the beets are sent to Western Sugar’s Lovell factory. The farmers’ co-op there has decided to stop harvesting because “the beets remaining in the ground are so badly damaged”.


The financing of the Cargill, sugar growers’ co-op and Imperial joint venture refinery in Louisiana was completed in November. It relies on federal government supported bonds. The trio were quoted as saying that work will start immediately on the project which will establish a new refinery next to Imperial’s Gramercy facility on the banks of the Mississippi west of New Orleans. Start-up is scheduled for ‘early 2011’ so the factories of the co-op don’t have long to learn how to make VHP sugar.


A consortium of Brazil’s Azul Airlines, Amyris Biotechnologies, Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer and General Electric has announced plans for a test flight with a partial mix of sugar-based aviation fuel by 2012 with dreams of commercialisation by 2013. Amyris, as we have reported before, is working on various fermentation technologies to produce a range of hydrocarbons rather than carbohydrates.


The Kuok group is selling its Malaysian sugar estates to the government for about $220 million. That seems a very good price for what is, after all, a very small industry that the USDA shows to be in rapid decline.


Zambia sugar seems to have a hard time of it this year : the start of the crop was delayed by completion and commissioning issues of the expansion project and then the estate experienced rain during what should have been the dry season. The forecast for the year “if the rains hold off until early December” is 350 000 tons compared to the budget of 420 000.


A European company has plans to invest $114 million on a bagasse pellet production facility in Brazil for export to Europe [where people are prepared to pay for ‘environmentally friendly’ - don’t ask about the impact of shipping]. The project has support from the IDB. There is nothing about the technology but in the past these schemes have failed because of the high wear on the pelletising dies.


BSES [Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations as was], the Australian industry’s agricultural research organisation, has signed an agreement with DuPont to jointly develop what should be the first commercialised genetically modified sugarcane. What has not been announced is what traits will be the focus of the research although DuPont seems to have a broad approach to crop improvement rather than, for instance, Monsanto’s concentration on ‘Roundup-ready’ crops.


Genetic research is beginning to improve our understanding of why some strains of yeast perform better than others when it comes to ethanol production. It is expected that the next step will be genetic modification to obtain strains with enhanced performance.

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