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Sugar mill officials hear research results from grinding season

Gillian at Audubon

(04/16/19) BATON ROUGE, La. — Each spring, representatives from Louisiana sugarcane mills hear results from researchers at the LSU AgCenter Audubon Sugar Institute.

During the factory operations seminar on April 11, researchers from the institute provided the sugar mill management teams with their latest research findings, which are helpful in the mills’ operations.

Story by Johnny Morgan, LSU AgCenter

Photo – Gillian Eggleston, center, head of the LSU AgCenter Sudubon Sugar Institute, explains the work being done at the institute during a tour for sugarcane mill workers at the annual factory operations seminar held in St. Gabriel on April 11. Photo by Johnny Morgan.

Gillian Eggleston, head of the LSU AgCenter Audubon Sugar Institute, explained the importance of the work being done at the institute and gave an update on the strategic plan that’s now in development.

"The factories invest in the research that we do every year,” she said. "So this is about their return on investment.”

To help them, there has to be communication; therefore, the seminar provides that dialogue, she said.

"We want to know their problems and their priorities, so we need to communicate with them and get that feedback as well for our future research,” she said.

Eggleston said she has been working on updates at the institute, and the results are beginning to be seen.

”We are currently looking at one-, five- and 10-year goals for the institute, which include the addition of a chemical and a mechanical engineer, utilizing pilot plant equipment and providing faster real-time data in the factories,” Eggleston said.

Jim Simon, general manager of the American Sugar Cane League, said it’s important for the industry to interact with the research community. By just tweaking some small aspect in the milling process, Audubon can greatly affect profits, he said.

"If Audubon can increase extraction by one half of 1% per ton of cane,” Simon said, "that equates to about $4 million per year.”

During the seminar, researchers from the institute and the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided updates on their work during the grinding season.

One area discussed was how the late-season-applied synthetic auxin herbicides can influence starch and color in commercial sugarcane cultivars.

Douglas Spaunhorst, a researcher from the USDA Agricultural Research Service office in Houma, said an abundance of starch is known to cause processing difficulties.

The persistence of starch in the factory has a known effect on the thickness of syrup and on sugar recovery, he said.

"Fortunately, a new USDA starch research method is now available to measure both insoluble and soluble starch,” Spaunhorst said.

AgCenter researcher Harold Birkett discussed his work with mill performance tests and boiler efficiency and compliance tests.

"These are tests that were requested by individual mills and the results show that overall, mill extraction and boiler efficiency continue to improve even as many factories process more cane,” he said.

Alexa Triplett, a researcher at the Audubon Sugar Institute, discussed her finding that mannitol, a sugar alcohol, can be measured with a new Magazyme enzymatic mannitol kit.

"This development will help us to identify the amount of mannitol, which has been found to cause deterioration in sugarcane,” Triplett said.

Other studies looked at ways to monitor mud consistency at the mills to improve mud filtration.

Josemanuel Henriquez, a researcher at the institute, said one of the most expensive causes of sucrose loss in sugar manufacturing is clarification mud.

Other topics discussed at the meeting included crystal size analysis and a 2018 molasses survey.

Curtis Willis, a fabrications assistant at Sterling Sugar Mill in Franklin, said the work at Audubon makes his job easier.

"They do work that helps us to do our job without having to do the lab work that’s necessary to produce sugar,” Willis said.

The seminar ended with a tour of the Audubon Sugar Institute facilities, where the factory managers were shown the new small-scale factory on site.

Eggleston said the equipment will mirror the work of a full-scale factory, and allow her scientists to expand research on sugarcane as it goes through the mill.

Since 2001, the institute has been analyzing molasses provided weekly by each of Louisiana’s 11 raw sugar factories. These results are used to calculate molasses purity.

To read the story at the LSU AgCenter website and view additional photographs, click here.

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