Time To Transform The Sugar Industry
Submitted by Ready-Done
Sugar cane was king in Barbados from the beginning, however the preferential treatment sugar received is no longer a reality, but the industry’s infrastructure is still present, still no one with the authority seems to want to make a definitive decision as to how to progress the sugar cane industry. The value is no longer in the sugar but now in the sugar cane, to let a whole industry go to waste is such a shame when few well spent dollars can go a long way towards making the sugar cane king again.
In retrofitting the Barbadian sugar cane industry rather than letting it run to waste, everyone benefits, the first cry was for farmers to diversify to other food crops and stop planting sugar cane, while ‘diversifying’ is the answer, to stop planting sugarcane is not. The removal of any established industry is not wise. The decline in value of sugar is not from internal forces, and should serve as a reminder to all that it is best for Team Barbados to be as self sufficient as we can be. The diversifying should be done with the products that we get from sugar cane. We should focus on products that can be consumed locally and maintain or increase the value of the sugar cane crop. They are many alternative products but the two worth perusing are bio fuels and bio plastics.
Barbados has no other natural deposit of fuel present capable of meeting the islands need; currently we import US $29 million per year in fuel. Ethanol, which comes from sugar cane, can be used to offset such a large amount of money being sent abroad. Research shows that one dry ton of sugarcane bagasse can generate 80 gallons of ethanol. In 1999, 500,000 tons of sugarcane were produced (not dry). In theory that is between 20-40 million gallons of ethanol we could have produced. What to do with this ethanol? We mix it with gasoline and sell it direct to the consumer.
Ethanol fuel mixtures have “E” numbers which describe the percentage of ethanol in the mixture by volume, for example, E10 is 10% Ethanol and 90% gasoline, from E5 to E25, are also known as gasohol, though internationally the most common use of the term gasohol refers to the E10 blend. E10, can be used in the engines of most modern vehicles without need for any modification on the engine or fuel system. E10 blends are approved for use in all new US automobiles, and are mandated in some areas for emissions and other reasons.
Using Brazil’s successful 30 year old example as a model for implementing this bio fuel industry it is best to start with a mandatory E10 then increase the amount of ethanol gradually. As higher levels of ethanol require changes made to the car.
Ethanol is made much the same way as rum, the process is simple and could even be made in the backyard, making sale of crude cane juice commercially viable. As ethanol making can be done by existing rum factories or new producing plants can be made.
Bio–plastics (also called organic plastics) are a form of plastics derived from renewable sources, in this case, sugar cane, rather than conventional petroleum bases plastics. Because of their biological degradability, the use of bio-plastics is especially popular for disposable items, such as packaging (trays and containers for fruit, vegetables, eggs and meat, bottles for soft drinks and dairy products) and catering items (crockery, cutlery, pots, bowls, and straws). The use of bio-plastics for shopping bags is already common. Some bio plastics possess the characteristic of being able to absorb water and are thus being used for the production of drug capsules in the pharmaceutical sector. Non-disposable applications include mobile phone casings, carpet fibers, and car interiors, fuel line and plastic pipe applications. Bio-derived polyethylene is chemically and physically identical to traditional polyethylene – it does not biodegrade but can be recycled.
Brazilian chemicals group Braskem claims that using its route from sugar cane ethanol to produce one tone of polyethylene captures (removes from the environment) 2.5 tones of carbon dioxide while the traditional petrochemical route results in emissions of close to 3.5 tones. Braskem plans to introduce commercial quantities of its first bio-derived high density polyethylene, used in a packaging such as bottles and tubs, in 2010 and has developed a technology to produce bio-derived butane, required to make the linear low density polyethylene types used in film production.
There are also fears that bioplastics will damage existing recycling projects. Packaging such as HDPE milk bottles and PET water and soft drinks bottles is easily identified and hence setting up a recycling infrastructure has been quite successful in many parts of the world. Polylactic acid and PET do not mix – as bottles made from polylactic acid cannot be distinguished from PET bottles by the consumer there is a risk that recycled PET could be rendered unusable. This could be overcome by ensuring distinctive bottle types or by investing in suitable sorting technology. However, the first route is unreliable and the second costly.
The figures relating to plastic use in Barbados are not available at this time but it is evident that it is a large industry and if the drink bottle and plastic industry were bases in sugarcane derived plastic money is to be made from sugar cane once more.