Come September, Uttar Pradesh’s Gonda district will have a new sugar mill with a difference — it will not produce any sugar. Instead, the mill will convert the entire cane juice produced to ethanol for blending with petrol.
This ethanol distillery of Balrampur Chini Mills Ltd is being built for Rs 450 crore on a 200-acre site at Maizapur in the Colonelganj tehsil that already houses a mill with a capacity to crush 3,000 tonnes of cane daily (tcd). That is now going to make way for what will be India’s largest single-tandem and multiple-feedstock distillery with a capacity of 343 kilolitres per day.
“It is 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. This way, it can operate for 350 days of the year unlike a regular sugar mill,” explains Sandeep Agarwal, the unit head at Maizapur.
For sugarcane farmers in the district, and the rest of Uttar Pradesh, the new mill is a potential gamechanger. If it succeeds, it will open up the possibility of sugarcane’s evolution into a full-fledged energy crop.
Diverting cane juice for biofuel — ethanol, which is now blended up to 10 per cent in petrol — will result in mills accumulating fewer sugar stocks and making it easier for them to pay farmers. “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 faster and pay us quickly),” says Rang Bihari Singh, who grows cane on 20 bighas of his 30-bigha (six acres) land in Colonelganj’s Ashokpur village.
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 per cent of the cane. At 22-23 per cent recovery, the corresponding ethanol production from “C” molasses is 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 per cent of cane. At 32-33 per cent recovery, the ethanol production works out to 2.1-2.2 litres.
The new plant will not produce a single kilogram of sugar from the crops. After being crushed, the entire juice will be concentrated into cane syrup containing roughly 60 per cent solids. This syrup will be then fermented to yield 8-8.2 litres of ethanol from every quintal of cane.