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Sugar Industry

System thinking as applied to sugar industry.

Before understanding dynamic/behavioural complexity of the sugar industry
for a complete system thinking, it is very much essential to know the
individual processes involved in sugar production.

Complete process flow diagram of sugar industry is as shown in the block

diagram in figure 1.0

Figure1.0 : Complete process flow diagram of all processes in a sugar


Figure 2: Process flow diagram of sugar production in a sugar plant.

Sugar cane is harvested by chopping down the stems but leaving the roots
so that it re-grows in time for the next crop. The cane is taken to the factory:
often by truck or rail wagon but sometimes on a bullock cart.
Sugarcane contains about 70% in weight of juice, in which sucrose
and other substances are held in solution, and 30% in weight of bagasse.
Important points to remember during crushing are:
(1) Sugarcane sticks must be crushed within 24 hours of being harvested.
After this time sucrose begins to 'invert' into different kind of sugars that
will not be crystallized well.
(2) Crushing efficiency is the most important factor to maximizing sugar
(sucrose) yields.
The first stage of processing is the extraction of the cane juice. In many
factories the cane is crushed in a series of large roller mills: similar to a
mangle [wringer] which is used to squeeze the water out of clean washing.
Every possible amount of juice needs to be squeezed from the
sugarcane sticks - in order also to have bagasses that are easy to dry.
The dried crushed sugarcane residue (bagasse) is often used as fuel for the
boiling process but it can also be used as raw material to produce tarsaturated cardboard roofing. The remaining liquid is allowed to set into a
solid mass known as jiggery. This can be further dried to produce
muscovado /brown sugar.
The sweet juice comes gushing out and the cane fibre is carried away for use
in the boilers after crushing. In other factories a diffuser is used as is
described for beet sugar manufacture. Either way the juice is pretty dirty:
the soil from the fields, some small fibres and the green extracts from the
plant are all mixed in with the sugarcane juice.

The juice is collected, filtered and sometimes treated (with natural additives
such as lime, wood ashes and or chemicals stabilizers such as sulfur
dioxides or sodium hydrogen sulphates - to settle impurities and "clarify"/
lighten the liquid color) and then boiled to evaporate excess water.
The factory can clean up the juice quite easily with slaked lime (a relative of
chalk) which settles out a lot of the dirt so that it can be sent back to the
fields. Once this is done, the juice is thickened up into a syrup by boiling off
the water using steam in a process called evaporation. Sometimes the syrup
is cleaned up again but more often it just goes on to the crystal-making step
without any more cleaning. The evaporation is undertaken in order to
improve the energy efficiency of the factory.
The syrup is placed into a very large pan for boiling, the last stage.
In the pan even more water is boiled off until conditions are right for sugar
crystals to grow.
This is a critical process that determines final product's yields. Small-scale
producers in Asian countries perform it in large pans over open fires or
simple furnaces. It is essential to use clean pans and tools, for once the
juice has been heated, impurities would speed the sugar-inversion process,
and lead to reduced yield of sucrose/ sugar. Therefore, the boiling pans and
tools should be thoroughly cleaned between uses.
Sediment settles to the bottom of the pan during boiling and is dredged out.
Scum rises to the top and is skimmed off. (These wastes can be used to feed
cattle). The end point of the boiling process corresponds to a Brix (sugar
content) of 90-95%.
In the factory the workers throw in some sugar dust to initiate crystal
formation. Once the crystals have grown the resulting mixture of crystals
and mother liquor is spun in centrifuges to separate the two, rather like
washing is spin dried. The crystals are then given a final dry with hot air
before being packed and/or stored ready for despatch.

The final raw sugar forms a sticky brown mountain in the store and looks
rather like the soft brown sugar found in domestic kitchens. It could be used
like that but usually it gets dirty in storage and has a distinctive taste which
most people don't want. That is why it is refined when it gets to the country
where it will be used. Additionally, because one cannot get all the sugar out
of the juice, there is a sweet by-product made: molasses. This is usually
turned into a cattle food or is sent to a distillery where alcohol is made.
So what happened to all that fibre from crushing the sugar cane? It is called
"bagasse" in the industry. The factory needs electricity and steam to run,
both of which are generated using this fibre.
The bagasse is burnt in large furnaces where a lot of heat is given out which
can be used in turn to boil water and make high pressure steam. The steam
is then used to drive a turbine in order to make electricity and create low
pressure steam for the sugar making process. This is the same process that
makes most of our electricity but there are several important differences.
When a large power station produces electricity it burns a fossil fuel [once
used, a fuel that cannot be replaced] which contaminates the atmosphere
and the station has to reject to atmosphere a lot of low grade heat. All this
contributes to global warming. In the cane sugar factory the bagasse fuel is
renewable and the gases it produces, essentially CO2, are more than used
up by the new cane growing. Added to that the factory uses of low grade
heat [in a system called co-generation] and one can see that a well run cane
sugar factory is environmentally friendly.
Refinement of sugar
The first stage of processing the raw sugar is to soften and then remove the
layer of mother liquor surrounding the crystals with a process called
"affination". The raw sugar is mixed with a warm, concentrated syrup of
slightly higher purity than the syrup layer so that it will not dissolve the
crystals. The resulting magma is centrifuged to separate the crystals from
the syrup thus removing the greater part of the impurities from the input
sugar and leaving the crystals ready for dissolving before further treatment.

The liquor which results from dissolving the washed crystals still contains
some colour, fine particles, gums and resins and other non-sugars.

The first stage of processing the liquor is aimed at removing the solids which
make the liquor turbid. Coincidentally some of the colour is removed too.
One of the two common processing techniques is known as carbonatation
where small clumps of chalk are grown in the juice. The clumps, as they
form, collect a lot of the non-sugars so that by filtering out the chalk one
also takes out the non-sugars. Once this is done, the sugar liquor is now
ready for decolourisation. The other technique, phosphatation, is chemically
similar but uses phosphate rather than carbonate formation.

There are also two common methods of colour removal in refineries, both
relying on absorption techniques with the liquor being pumped through
columns of medium. One option open to the refiner is to use granular
activated carbon [GAC] which removes most colour but little else. The
carbon is regenerated in a hot kiln where the colour is burnt off from the
carbon. The other option is to use an ion exchange resin which removes less
colour than GAC but also removes some of the inorganics present. The resin
is regenerated chemically which gives rise to large quantities of unpleasant
liquid effluents.
The clear, lightly coloured liquor is now ready for crystallisation except that
it is a little too dilute for optimum energy consumption in the refinery. It is
therefore evaporated prior to going to the crystallisation pan.
The liquor left over from the preparation of white sugar and the washings
from the affination stage both contain sugar which it is economic to recover.
They are therefore sent to the recovery house which operates rather like a
raw sugar factory, aiming to make a sugar with a quality comparable to the
washed raws after the affination stage. As with the other sugar processes,
one cannot get all of the sugar out of the liquor and therefore there is a

sweet by-product made: refiners' molasses. This is usually turned into a

cattle food or is sent to a distillery where alcohol is made.

Ethanol Production:
It is expected that 5% bio-ethanol will be blended with petrol sold in all the
States and UTs of the country.
The EBP Programme is presently being implemented in a total of 13 States
with blending level of about 2% against a mandatory target of 5%.
A stable EBP programme would ensure sustainable benefits for the
sugarcane farmers across the nation. It will ensure an alternative market for
the farmers who frequently get adversely affected in case of bumper crop of
sugarcane and lack of its demand in the market. It will also provide an
incentive to small and medium farmers to increase efforts towards
Procurement of ethanol at a price determined by the market will ensure
stability. EBP programme not only provides opportunities to sugarcane
farmers, but it also ensures the use of ethanol as bio-fuel in a big way which
is environment friendly. Besides, to the extent of implementation, this
reduces the dependence on imported crude and leads the nation ahead on
fuel self sufficiency.
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs has approved the issue of
pricing for bio-ethanol procurement by Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) for
Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) Programme as per following:
i. The 5% mandatory ethanol blending with petrol as already decided by the
CCEA in the past, should be implemented across the country, for which the
Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas will immediately issue a gazette
notification, for the OMCs to implement from the 2012-13 sugar season,
effective from 1st December, 2012.
ii. Procurement price of ethanol will be decided henceforth between OMCs
and suppliers of ethanol.
iii. In case of any shortfall in domestic supply, the OMCs and Chemical
companies are free to import ethanol.

Co-generation is the concept of producing two forms of energy from one fuel.
One of the forms of energy must always be heat and the other may be
electricity or mechanical energy. In a conventional power plant, fuel is burnt
in a boiler to generate high-pressure steam. This steam is used to drive a
turbine, which in turn drives an alternator through a steam turbine to
produce electric power. The exhaust steam is generally condensed to water
which goes back to the boiler.
As the low-pressure steam has a large quantum of heat which is lost in the
process of condensing, the efficiency of conventional power plants is only
around 35%. In a cogeneration plant, very high efficiency levels, in the range
of 75%90%, can be reached. This is so, because the low-pressure exhaust
steam coming out of the turbine is not condensed, but used for heating
purposes in factories or houses.
Since co-generation can meet both power and heat needs, it has other
advantages as well in the form of significant cost savings for the plant and
reduction in emissions of pollutants due to reduced fuel consumption.
Even at conservative estimates, the potential of power generation from cogeneration in India is more than 20,000 MW. Since India is the largest
producer of sugar in the world, bagasse-based cogeneration is being
promoted. The potential for cogeneration thus lies in facilities with joint
requirement of heat and electricity, primarily sugar and rice mills,
distilleries, petrochemical sector and industries such as fertilizers, steel,
chemical, cement, pulp and paper, and aluminum.

The Benefits of Cogeneration

Provided the cogeneration is optimized in the way described above (i.e. sized
according to the heat demand), the following benefits can be obtained:
1. Increased efficiency of energy conversion and use
2. Lower emissions to the environment, in particular of CO2, the main
greenhouse gas
3. In some cases, biomass fuels and some waste materials such as
refinery gases, process or agricultural waste (either anaerobically
digested or gasified), are used. These substances which serve as fuels
for cogeneration schemes, increases the cost-effectiveness and
reduces the need for waste disposal.

4. Large cost savings, providing additional competitiveness for industrial

and commercial users while offering affordable heat for domestic
users also
5. An opportunity to move towards more decentralized forms of
electricity generation, where plants are designed to meet the needs of
local consumers, providing high efficiency, avoiding transmission
losses and increasing flexibility in system use. This will particularly be
the case if natural gas is the energy carrier
6. An opportunity to increase the diversity of generation plant, and
provide competition in generation. Cogeneration provides one of the
most important vehicles for promoting liberalization in energy
Process flow diagram of a sugar plant as a complete system in shown in
figure 3.0. System thinking enables us to consider the entire system as a
unit to handle the issues of sugar production along with

Efficient management of quick deliver of harvested sugarcane for


Use of excess bagasse for power genreation in a cogenration plant.
The decision making regarding the capacity of the cogenration


plant is dependent on the avialiblity of surplus bagasse.

Refining of the brown sugar to white sugar based on the customer


demand and market requirement.

Efficient converison of molasses to produce fuel ethanol to blend
with gasoline.


Fig 3: Ethanol Production Process flow Diagram.