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Thursday, 16 February 2017

Supporting Indian sugar industry to take a global leap

In an interview, B Shivanna, Technical Adviser, National Federation of Cooperative Sugar Factories Limited (NFCSF) with Chemical Today magazine talks at length about the dynamics of Indian sugar industry and ways in which the industry can focus on having a stronger footprint in the world market.
By Debarati Das
Ways to make Indian sugar industry competitive globally.
India is not very competitive in the International Sugar Market, as India’s competitiveness is limited due to the production of white sugar which contains sulphur and high colour. Currently, out of the overall sugar manufactured in  India, only about 5 to 10 percent of sugar production is globally competitive. Rest of the sugar is white sugar which is produced using sulphation process and contains sulphur content level which is not accepted globally. In India, the acceptable limit of sulphur is 70 ppm while globally it is much lower. Only about 5 to 10 percent of production capacity has adequate infrastructure along with their own refineries to process raw sugar. This is used for human consumption and by soft drink manufacturer and sweet makers.
India needs large investments in augmenting the process. This is further hampered due to lack of long term policy by the Government of India (GOI). The GOI, every year declares the Fair Remunerative Price (FRP) for sugarcane, however, sugar price does not increase in the same proportion every year as there is a direct control over prices in the market by the GOI.
We are trying to change the processing system to manufacture high-grade sugar. Many companies have begun adopting new technologies for better grade sugar, however, mass acceptance for the adoption of this process needs capital investment.
Making sugar a healthy option for the rising health conscious population.
There are proven technologies available in India to produce healthy sugar but it is produced as per the demand in the market. To make sulphur free sugar, we have to produce raw sugar by using lime and further process it by melting and refining.
Sugar is refined by Ion Exchange process, Phosphatation process, Carbonation process without using chemical except for high molecular weight polymers. Many big players in the country invested in sugarcane processing for raw sugar, mainly Renuka, Simbhaoli, Bajaj, Triveni, Godavari Sugar Mills and producing refined sugar.
However, there are no long-term policies of the GOI for capital investment, for producing health-conscious sugar which frees from sulphur. NFCSF is working with the cooperative in this direction.
Market dynamics of use of sugar alternatives.
Indian manufacturers have attempted to make sugar from other plants such as sugar beet, sweet sorghum. However, it is not economically viable to continue. Sugarcane is a hardy crop which can stand climatic extremities without a significant decline in crop yield or sugar recovery. Sugarcane crop can withstand a temperature range of between 35 degree Celsius to 45-degree celsius and rainfall range of between 3 mm and 260 mm. However, sugarcane crop in India is largely monsoon dependent.
Furthermore, the sugar industry is a unique industry with the following characteristics:
• Highly energy intensive
• The by-product bagasse is used as a fuel for generation of steam and power.
• Depending on the system, excess power can be generated and sold to the grid. The sugar industry consumes both steam and power.
Challenges faced by the sugar industry.
Currently, sugar industry faces a lot of challenges to bring down the cost. Apart from sugar, the factory produces - Bagasse (surplus), Final Molasses, Filtre mud, Furnace Ash eg. Electricity (surplus) Bagasse: The burning bagasse for steam generation in cane sugar factories and utilisation of this for prime movers for power generation. Till recently, sugar industry used bagasse mainly to achieve self-sufficiency in fuel requirement. But with recent technological advancement, sugar mill is producing surplus power with the same amount of fuel for boiler by the installation of high-pressure boiler and high-efficiency turbo generator. Excess energy produced is pumped to National grid.
Secondly, black strap molasses after recovering sugar sent as final molasses used for a production of ethanol. GOI made it mandatory to blend ethanol with petrol and 10 percent blending as optional. Now Government is promoting flexi fuel vehicle by effective utilisation of by-product of the sugar industry. GOI has also permitted companies to produce ethanol directly from secondary juice to meet the demand and to achieve upto 20 percent blending ethanol with petrol without any changes in the engine.
Thirdly, press mud which is a byproduct of the sugar industry is used as pillar material for spent wash treatment and is used as manure after treatment. By effective utilisation of by-product, the financial health of the sugar mill will improve and bring down the cost.
Trends in the industrial use of sugar.
Over 60 percent of the sugar produced is consumed in beverages, bakery etc. Only about 30 to 35 percent is used in household segment. The major consumer of the sugar insists on producing refines sugar having low colour value and sulphur free. The white sugar produced in the country is not being used major consumer due to high colour, ash content and turbidity.
Latest R&D in the sugar industry.
Most of the R&D in the sugar industry is being done towards increasing the productivity and coming up with better refining process. There is also a focus on increasing the yield of the crops with a lot of work happening towards developing the composition of sugarcane. Technology wise, there is a lot of R&D happening in ways of generating power, improving the cost of conversion, making ethanol etc. The country is aiming to have 5 percent ethanol blended petrol. This has further boosted the manufacturing of ethanol with many sugar companies establishing ethanol plants to meet the demand.
Future dynamics of the Indian sugar industry.
As on October 2016, India has a carryover stock of 7 million tonnes and estimated sugar production in India for the year 2016-17 is about 22 million tonnes. With this, India can comfortably meet the annual domestic demand of 25 million tonnes. In view of this, we do not have the need to import sugar. However, in 2016-17 year, despite being one of the world’s largest sugar producers, India has been a relatively very small player in the world market with no scope for exporting due to drought conditions particularly in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu who are the major producer next to Uttar Pradesh.
Sugar has a high weight of around 3.6 percent in the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) which is another reason why Government is hesitant to loosen its grip over the industry.
Financially unviable funded millers are run without any strategy for revival. Also, sugar industry consists of smaller units which are not economically viable to run. Consolidation in the industry, selling loss-making units and Government subsidised sugar mills by divestment is one solution to make sugar mill viable.
Sugar mill is a seasonal industry which operates for 5 to 6 months per year. Most of the manpower are untrained and unwanted excess staff contributes to increasing conversion cost. Therefore, automation plays a major factor to regulate and control costs while improving quality output. Too much dependency on workforce may prove fatal for the industry.
NFCSF efforts to improve the manufacturing process of sugar.
Sugar manufacturing faces various types of problems in every step of business – from sugar cane farming to manufacturing sugar. These problems are further accentuated due to the lack of government policies, getting financial assistance, difficulties in getting bank loans etc. We are constantly with the sugar manufacturers helping them in every step. We are also in constant talks with the government of India to release certain grants and subsidiaries for the sugar manufacturers.
© Chemical Today magazine
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