As noted in the El Dorado Rum entry, molasses is the key 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 for me used to work at the plant. He was able to arrange the tour for me.
Upon arrival we were issued hardhats and paired up with our guide, Mr. Leslie Henry.
We walked toward the rear of the property where a canal separates the plant from the sugar cane fields. The canal 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 literally front to back in the canal as they head to the dump station. Those that went by us at this point were loaded with cane pieces between 12 and 18 inches in length. Those were harvested by machine. Looking much farther back, one could see punts that were filled with eight to ten foot lengths of cane. That was cane that was harvested by hand, carried in bundles balanced on the head, and ultimately dumped into the waiting punts.
As each punt reaches the dumping station, the run under a spray of water to begin the cleaning process. The punt is then positioned in a clamp. 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.
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 can 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 is numbered so it can be tracked to ensure each man is paid according to the punt to which he contributed.
Once the cane is 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 actually takes it into the plant.
The cane’s first introduction to the plant is by 92 steel knives. They are made out of one-half inch steel plate. They come out as a rough pulp and move on to the first of four mills. Enroute to that mill, the cane passes under a large magnet. That removes any metal that may have made it to that point.
At the first mill, the pulpy 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.
Mr. Henry informed us that everything in the plant is run by either steam or self-generated electricity. This 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 huge piles in a covered area that were continuously being fed from overhead conveyors.
Back in the plant we went along the purification route. This was a multi-step process that I did not completely grasp. Suffice it to say that we ended up at a station where the molasses is separated 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. The molasses is then sold to places like the rum distillers.
The sugar crystals then go through two more purification processes before it is ultimately sent to the packaging area via another conveyor belt. The final sugar product is a light brown, fairly coarse grained sugar. I did get to sample a little. It tastes great.
When I was there, the packaging line was filling one kilogram plastic bags. They can fill up to a 50 kilogram bag, depending on the end customer. The packaged sugar awaits trucks in the warehouse to be taken to their final destination for sale.
If one is in the Georgetown area and can arrange for this tour, it is very interesting and very worthwhile.