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Molasses production, exports on the rise

Published on 21st July, Edition 29, 2014

 

Molasses is an offshoot of the sugar refining industry. Its universal availability mostly depends on the production of sugar out of sugarcane and sugar beets. Sugarcane is vastly grown in tropical or sub-tropical regions like Asia, Central and South America, Africa and Australia. Sugar beets are cultivated mainly in the northern hemisphere and come from more temperate crops in Europe, North America, partly Northern Africa as well as Northern China and Japan. About 80 percent of the sugar is produced from sugarcane.

Globally more than 50 million tons of molasses are produced out of which only around 7 million tons are traded. Most of the world’s beet molasses is consumed in the country of origin and about 15 percent of the global transacted molasses is beet molasses. The international sugarcane molasses market is mostly concerned by the supply from India, Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia and Sudan.

Some smaller exporters of around 50 countries also play pivotal role in the global markets. The market for beet molasses largely depends on the production of the European Union, Eastern Europe and Northern Africa. The European Sugar reform has substantially reduced the local sugar and the molasses output.

A record production of sugarcane over the last two years increased output of sugar and its by-product, molasses. In the years 2012 and 2013, sugarcane output exceeded 58 million tons and 62 million tons respectively, up by five percent in 2012 and seven percent in 2013.

In the last four years, molasses output in Pakistan has increased to two million tons, reaching a record high of 2.3 million tons in 2013-14. Molasses production is growing faster than exports as a result of investment made in refining technology. The distilleries have been producing alcohol for a long period and only after mid 2000s ethanol production picked up to a large extent. Higher sugarcane production is the prime factor behind increased molasses output. Also to a large extent, improved sugarcane crushing rate and better processing and storage facilities also have helped in molasses stable production.

Molasses sugar is a dark brown, almost black, moist granular sugar. It can be used interchangeably with muscovado sugar, but molasses sugar has a stronger taste as compared to muscovado. Its distinguishable molasses taste is due to its high content of molasses. Nutritively, it has high iron content. Molasses sugar is often used in chutneys, pickles, and marinades, as well as in Eid and Christmas cakes.
Use of molasses and its byproduct alcohol in domestic industries like food, herbal medicines, paints and varnishes, cosmetics, paper glazing and leather polishing have been growing unwaveringly. Molasses obtained during the processing of sugar beet and is also used widely in preparation of herbal treatment formulas and, in when converted into alcohol and further refined, in food coloring materials and cosmetics.

About 90 percent is being consumed locally both in its raw form and in the form of alcohol and ethanol. Alcohol and ethanol is exported to United Kingdom and other European countries, China and United States whereas raw Pakistani molasses is in demand in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Afghanistan. In the fiscal year 2011-12 export earnings from molasses rose from about $6.5 million to $27.8million in 2012-13. For the first ten months of fiscal year 2013-14 molasses exports was at $22.5 million.

 

More than a dozen distilleries are in operation and some of them also produce ethanol of various grades, which is used for making environment friendly fuel oil. Unicol, a joint venture of three sugar mills has been involved in production and exports of ethanol. Fatima group of companies has been recipient of FPCCI’s molasses exporter award for several years.

Yeast made from molasses is now being used in larger quantities with rising demand for confectionery items. Similarly as demand for herbal medicines and food formulas increase, consumption of molasses and it’s syrup in this industry is also growing. Alcohol made out of molasses is also added with wax and other glazing materials to manufacture polishes for furniture, leather and household items. Animal food manufacturers are also experimenting with new food formulas with increased share of molasses.
Many large sugar mills have their own distilleries where they convert molasses into bio ethanol, which is primarily used in alcohol production. But over the last two years, a few sugar mills have begun producing a limited amount of electricity to meet energy needs of their manufacturing plants. Oil refineries also continue to use a limited amount of molasses-converted spirits for making ethanol or for blending purposes. The optimal use of molasses-converted alcohol can be ensured by developing food grade alcohol on a larger scale.

Exporters have lately started exploring the possibility of exporting molasses-converted industrial alcohol to a few countries in Africa but stiff competition with US and Brazil continues to discourage. The properties of molasses, produced during the processing of sugar beet are slightly different than that of cane sugar molasses. Whereas normally both types of molasses are converted into industrial alcohol, the alcohol obtained from sugar beet molasses is more suitable for manufacturing of chemical substances used for polishing of fruits and vegetables.

Pakistan has the capacity to process 2.5 million tons of molasses to produce half a million tons of anhydrous and hydrous ethanol. Many sugar mills such as Al-Abbas, Crescent, Colony, Habib, Mehran and Premier have their own distilleries to convert molasses into bio ethanol. This is chiefly used in alcohol making but can be converted into fuel alcohol through molecular sieve technology. This fuel alcohol is used in environment-friendly power generation.

Here are some benefits of ethanol fuel over the traditional fossil fuels. Most importantly, ethanol adds oxygen to gasoline which helps to reduce air pollution and harmful emissions in tailpipe exhaust. Sugarcane ethanol cuts carbon dioxide emissions by 90 percent on an average as compared to gasoline proving itself better than any other liquid biofuel produced at commercial scale. It is a high-octane fuel that helps to prevent engine knocking and generates more power in higher compression engines. Moreover ethanol reduces global dependence on traditional fuels. In spite of the other qualities, ethanol produced from sugarcane can prove itself the economically viable and good alternate fuel source. Because of the immense uses of molasses there is an urgent need to develop it’s by products on modern lines to increase the exports earnings in the country.

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