The first stage in production is preparing the ground, which consists of plowing, harrowing and smoothing the soil. Pesticides and fertilizers are applied and then the shoots are planted, which must be watered every 15 days. Sugar cane requires a lot of water to grow, so growers use irrigation frequently. The harvest takes place 6 to 12 months after the planting. The cane is cut and gathered by hand, although in the 20th century the producers began to use machinery that gathered the stalks that were cut by hand by the cane cutters. Once cut, the stalks are transported to the sugar mill where the processing begins.
The process of producing sugar consists of various stages. First, the harvest is analyzed, weighed and unloaded. A sample of the cane is analyzed to determine the exact amount of sugar it contains, as well as its quality. Each unit, which also is labeled with information about the owner and where it was grown, is weighed before being unloaded onto what is known as the distribution platform, made of perforated sheets of metal. There, the stalks are washed with water. If they are not washed, the efficiency of the grinding, as well as the general operation of the mill, is adversely affected.
The next stage is known as the pressing station. Here, the cane is cut and pressed to extract the juice, which is called guarapo. This phase is commonly called milling, similar to grain being ground in a mill. The fibrous waste of the leftover cane, which is called bagazo, is used to fuel the boilers that produce electricity for the mill.
In the heating stage, the juice extracted from the cane is weighed to determine the efficiency of the press and to account for the sugar produced in the processing. Lime and other chemical components are added as clarifying agents. Then the juice is heated to a temperature of 225° F to eliminate the impurities in it.
In the clarification stage, the juice is transferred to clarifiers where it is purified and then strained. The sediment that remains in the bottom of the clarifier, known as cachaza, is sent to the filtration station to recover the juice it still contains. The juice is sent to evaporators where it is concentrated to form melaomelao: Name for the syrup that is produced when the raw juice extracted from the sugar cane is evaporated, and before it is concentrated to the point of crystallization., or the syrup made from the cane. In the next station, the syrup is crystallized. The syrup is transferred to containers called tachos and is reduced further to produce a substance like sugar and honey.
The cooked substance is then cooled in cylindrical containers before going to a high-speed centrifuge, which separates the sugar crystals from the syrup. During this process, the impurities in the syrup are removed, and then it is dried and cooled. The raw sugar is weighed and is then transported to the warehouse.
The raw sugar that is very pure is packed and sent to refineries, where it is processed into commercial white sugar. The raw sugar of lower purity is used as seed stock for the crystallization process in the tachos to help the processing of the syrup. The low-purity syrup is used for manufacturingmanufacturing: A system for producing goods based on an intensive use of machinery. alcohol and for animal feed and other products.
Adapted by the PROE Editorial Group
Original source: Duhamel Zayas Rivera, "Procesos agrícolas y fabril de la caña de azúcar," Chapter 10 of El verdor y dulce de nuestra caña de azúcar, 2003.
Autor: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: January 07, 2010.