Pure Cane Sugar

Pure Cane Sugar

Enmore, Guyana – October 16, 2013

As noted in the El Dorado Rum entry, molasses is the crucial ingredient for making rum. This morning I “closed the loop.” I took a tour of the Guysuco (Guyana Sugar Company) Enmore sugar plant. One of the electricians that works with me used to work at the plant. He was able to arrange the tour.

Upon arrival, we were issued hardhats and paired up with our guide, Mr. Leslie Henry.

Guysuco Sugar Plant at Enmore, Guyana.

Part of the plant grounds and sugarcane fields.

We walked toward the rear of the property where a canal separates the plant from the sugar cane fields. The channel was full of small barges called punts. Each punt was full of freshly cut sugar cane. The punts are about eight feet wide, 20 feet long, and three to four feet deep. They are flat bottomed, made of plate steel.
The punts are front to back in the canal as they head to the dump station. Those that went by us at this point each had a load of cane pieces between 12 and 18 inches in length, harvested by machine. Looking much farther back, one could see punts filled with eight to ten-foot lengths of cane. That was cane that was collected by hand, carried in bundles balanced on the head, and ultimately dumped into the waiting punts.

A seemingly endless line of punts come to the plant from the sugarcane fields.

A plant employee working with the full punts.

As each punt reaches the dumping station, they run under a spray of water to begin the cleaning process. Next, a clamp attaches to the punt, and it is lifted some 20 to 25 feet up and then rotated. The rotation along the long side of the punt is to maybe 100 or 110 degrees. That allows the cane to fall into a large hopper.

Before a punt is lifted, it goes under its first water wash.
A punt preparing to dump its load of sugarcane.

Once in the hopper, all of the water from the washing falls away. In the control room at the top of the dump station are two employees. One operates the lifting and dumping of the punts while the other employee operates the scale. The hopper is the scale. The contents of the punt I saw while in the control room weighed 4.135 tons; over 8,000 pounds! Mr. Henry indicated some punts could hold as much as 10 tons.
The men in the fields harvesting the cane are paid based on the specific weights of the punts. Each punt has a unique number so it can be tracked to ensure payment to each man according to the punt to which he contributed.
Once weighed, the hopper hinges open and the cane falls out the bottom. It lands on a conveyor belt. At the top of the belt, the cane drops onto another belt that takes it into the plant.

Sugarcane emptying from a punt.
Sugarcane in the bin. The bin dumps onto the conveyor belt that takes the cane through the wash station.
Sugarcane leaving the dump-station goes through another wash station.

The cane’s first introduction to the plant is by 92 steel knives, each made out of a one-half inch steel plate. The cane comes out as a rough pulp and moves on to the first of four mills. Enroute to that mill, the cane passes under a giant magnet. That removes any metal that may have made it to that point.
At the first mill, the thick cane is mixed with water and crushed. That happens three more times along the line. After the fourth mill, the now dry pulp (called bagasse) moves up a tall conveyor on its way to the steam boilers.

The washed sugarcane goes through the first mill to crush the cane.Mr. Henry informed us that everything in the plant runs by either steam or self-generated electricity. It is a very “green” plant.
The dry bagasse heads to the boilers as the liquid (called juice) heads to the refining process. At the two boilers, the bagasse fuel is fed in near the top. The boilers are nearly three-stories tall. If for some reason there is not enough bagasse available there are large logs on stand-by. That day they were not in jeopardy of running out of fuel. There were considerable piles in a covered area, continuously fed from overhead conveyors.

Begasse burning in the boiler.

Reserved begasse awaiting its turn in the boiler.

Back in the plant, we went along the purification route. It is a multi-step process that I did not grasp entirely. Suffice it to say that we ended up at a station where workers separate the molasses from a dark liquid that has the beginnings of sugar crystals in it. That liquid goes to centrifuge machines. After spinning, the crystals move on for more refining as the newly separated molasses is pumped into molasses holding tanks, and then sold to places like the rum distiller at El Dorado.

A worker inspects the first sugar crystals derived from the sugarcane.

The sugar crystals then go through two more purification processes before a trip to the packaging area via another conveyor belt. The final sugar product is a light brown, reasonably coarse-grained sugar. I did get to sample a little. It tastes great.
When I was there, the packaging line was filling one-kilogram (2.2 pounds) plastic bags. They can fill up to a 50-kilogram (220 pounds) sack, depending on the end customer. The packaged sugar awaits trucks in the warehouse to take them to their final destination for sale.
If one is in the Georgetown area and can arrange for this tour, it is fascinating and very worthwhile.

Stacks of 25 kilograms (55 pounds) bags of refined sugar.

Refined sugar waiting to be bagged.
One kilogram (2.2 pounds) bags of sugar coming off the line.

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