Why has Fibre analysis in Sugarcane gained interest?
Fibre analysis in the sugarcane industry is becoming more and more important to determine the value of the raw cane entering the factories: Traditional analysis to determine the quality of sugarcane delivered to a sugar factory involves the weight of cane, a measure of Brix and Pol, and in most cases a measure of the fibre content. Sugarcane is essentially three main components – sugar, water and fibre. Historically it is sugar that has been identified as the main value component, so attention has focused on how much sugar exists in the sugarcane supply. In more recent times though fibre has become much more important. Fibre is becoming a much more valuable commodity. It’s uses inside and outside the sugar factory have expanded to include biomass user for electricity generation, as a source for 2nd generation fibre to biofuels production, for paper and green packaging manufacture, animal feed and, for small but growing segments, include clothing, concrete reinforcement, and other processes. Fibre analysis in the sugar cane industry is becoming more and more important to determine the value of the raw cane entering the processing plant.
Components of the raw sugarcane deliveries brought into the factory.
Fibre is defined slightly differently across the global group of sugar producing countries, but most often includes cellulose and hemi cellulose in cane stalk, leaf, and other organic components of the crop, in addition to any soil, sand, dirt or stones captured by the harvesting and transport activities in the field. In short, anything that is not sugar or water is defined as fibre. Growers, who often pay for transport also pay for the added weight of soil, sand, and stone to be carried to the factory, whilst at the same time removing the valuable nutrient containing topsoil from their fields. Millers, who process the sugarcane, have higher maintenance costs in wear and tear and stoppages, and often pay for the removed waste as mill mud to be transported back to the field.
Whilst the organic components can be utilised profitably it is the non-organic components that add significant cost to both growers and millers, and that is the unwanted component of the crop. Unfortunately, as the incidence of mechanically harvested sugarcane increases as a proportion of the crop, more and more soil, sand and stone finds it’s way to the factory. Sugarcane supply is becoming more and more contaminated by loss making unwanted waste material that adds cost when transporting it into the plant, adds costs to remove it from the process, and further costs to transport it away again.
Determining the value of raw sugarcane deliveries
Sugar factory laboratories usually have analytical methods that enable producers to identify how much fibre exists in the cane supply. Additionally, a method of analysis for Ash assists the laboratory in identifying how much soil, sand and stone is entering the sugar factory. Methods of analysis for fibre do vary in different countries and regions. These include empirically “calculated by difference” methods that provide approximate indications of the fibre percentage to more professionally recognised official methods that can take up to eight hours to complete by more direct measurement. Whilst fast and reasonably accurate analysis by Near Infra-Red is possible it is a secondary method that relies upon an accurate primary method of fibre analysis as a calibration model. NIR calibration models are usually built from a database of several thousand fibre analysis. In summary, you still need accurate primary analytical methods of fibre analysis for NIR to work well.
Fibre analysis in the sugarcane industry to reduce production cost
The sugar industry would benefit from access to a fast accurate and reliable method for determination of fibre in sugarcane for quality. Accurate and fast feedback of sugarcane fibre content to the harvesting and transport sectors would assist in reducing costs across the entire sugar industry, both reducing costs for growers and improving the ability of the millers to produce high quality sugar, and clean, value adding fibre for additional income stream generation.
In the next section we will expand upon the more common methods of fibre analysis, their strengths, and weaknesses.