This new UP sugar mill will produce no sugar, only ethanol

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28 February 2022, New Delhi: Come September and Gonda will have a new sugar mill, but with a difference: It won’t produce any sugar and, instead, convert the entire juice from cane into ethanol for blending with petrol.

Costing Rs 450 crore, this factory of Balrampur Chini Mills Ltd is coming up at Maizapur in Gonda district’s Colonelganj tehsil. The 200-acre site, where work is in full swing, already houses a mill with a capacity to crush 3,000 tonnes cane daily (tcd). That mill is going to make way for what will be India’s largest single-tandem and multiple-feedstock distillery of 343 kilo-litres per day capacity.

“It’s a new 4,000-tcd plant, which can also process about 800 tonnes of grain and 1,100-1,200 tonnes of molasses per day in the off-season when cane isn’t available. We will use cane for 150-160 days during the crushing season (November-April), stored molasses (mainly from the company’s other mills) for the next 50-60 days and broken rice (mostly sourced from the open market) for another 140-150 days. In this way, it can operate for 350 days of the year, unlike a regular sugar mill,” explained Sandeep Agarwal, unit head at Maizapur.

For sugarcane farmers in Gonda – and the rest of Uttar Pradesh – the new mill is a potential game-changer. Its success will open up the possibility of ganna’s evolution into a full-fledged energy crop. India’s is currently surplus in sugar, with its annual production of 31-32 million tonnes exceeding domestic consumption at 25-26 million tonnes.

Diverting cane juice for bio-fuel, i.e. ethanol that’s now blended up to 10% in petrol, would result in mills accumulating less sugar stocks and making it easier for them to pay growers.

“Ethanol plant se donon ko faida hoga. Unka maal jaldi bik jayega aur hamara ganne ka payment bhi tez hoga (the ethanol plant will benefit both the company and us; they can sell their product fast and pay us more quickly),” said Rang Bihari Singh, who grows cane on 20 and wheat on 10 of his total 30-bigha (6 acre) holding in Ashokpur village of Colonelganj. The Maizapur mill sources cane from over 20,000 farmers cultivating the crop in some 35,000 acres.

A normal mill produces around 11.5 kg of sugar from every quintal (100 kg) of cane crushed. The unrecoverable sugar goes into what is called ‘C’ molasses, constituting 4.5-4.7% of the cane. At 22-23% recovery, the corresponding ethanol production from ‘C’ molasses would be 1-1.1 litres. Alternatively, the mill may produce only 9.5-9.6 kg of sugar and allow the extra sucrose to go into an earlier stage of ‘B-heavy’ molasses, accounting for 6.5-6.8% of cane. At 32-33% recovery, the ethanol production works out higher, at 2.1-2.2 litres.

The new Maizapur plant will not produce a single kg of sugar from cane. The whole juice after crushing will be concentrated to cane syrup containing roughly 60% solids. This syrup is, then, fermented to yield 8-8.2 litres of ethanol from every quintal of cane.

The Narendra Modi government has fixed a higher price of Rs 63.45 per litre payable by oil marketing companies for ethanol produced directly from cane juice/syrup than that from ‘B-heavy’ molasses (Rs 59.08/litre) and the regular ‘C’ molasses (Rs 46.66/litre) route. The higher rate is to compensate mills for revenues foregone from reduced/nil production of sugar.

The economics for bio-fuels – enabling higher ethanol blending levels in petrol – have been further bolstered by rising global crude prices in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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