The physicochemical characterization of samples from sugar cane derives from the results obtained in qualitative and quantitative analyzes, which are framed within the concept of analytical chemistry. This area of the Cenicaña Factory Process Program contributes to define, implement and control analytical quality parameters and process control in the production of sugarcane, from the field to the factory.
The analytical chemistry area intervenes in the following aspects:
In the process of obtaining sugar, various components are conjugated, among which are the variety of cane, the soil, the climate, the management of the crop, such as fertilization and maturation, which determine the quality of the raw material that enter the process.
In addition to this, the operational practices that include the type of cut, the transport and the residence times before entering the grinding tables cause transformations of sucrose, affecting the final yields in the process. For this reason, the conditions that affect or contribute to the formation and conservation of sucrose are established from studies of cane quality.
The main evaluations carried out as cane are:
- Evaluation of pre-harvest methodologies: Design and analysis of variability studies in pre-harvest sampling, development of methodologies that allow obtaining the sucrose value with the smallest deviation associated with sampling.
- Experimental evaluation of sucrose losses between cutting and milling: Design and execution of sucrose monitoring to estimate the losses associated with burning, permanence in the field, transportation and residence times in patios.
- Foreign matter evaluation: Characterization of the foreign matter generated by type of cut and the contribution that this represents in the quality of the juices.
Obtaining value-added products
Sugar cane is a plant with a high wealth of components, offering the possibility of taking advantage not only in obtaining sugar, but also in a wide range of by-products, which can be obtained both from the plant and from the residues that can get to be generated in the process of obtaining sugar; it is here where diversification studies come in search of compounds that add value to the process from agricultural crop residues or components of the process of obtaining sugar.
- Obtaining antioxidants from sugar cane and derivatives of the process: Characterization of components of sugar cane (leaves, bud, bagasse) and by-products of the process of obtaining sugar (honey, cachaça) for the extraction of compounds with antioxidant character.
Sucrose losses in the sugar production process
Sucrose losses throughout the sugar manufacturing process can be attributed to three possible sources:
1) Those coming from practices before harvest,
2) those that occur after cutting and / or harvesting and
3) losses that occur in the manufacturing process.
The instability of sucrose in these processes may be associated with the inherent operating practices of the process itself, the environmental conditions, the characteristics of the cane, the harvesting systems, residence and storage times, tank configurations and technology. So the research has been oriented to the study of the behavior of sucrose in these environments.
The Factory Process Program in this area works mainly in:
- Experimental and field evaluation of sucrose losses in the manufacturing process: Estimation of sucrose losses through kinetic models per process unit, and evaluation of the technical-economic impact, which help to identify the root cause (s), to implement minimization and control strategies.
Indeterminate losses of sucrose in the sugar making process
These losses are attributable to sources (apparent, inversion, physical and decomposition) that are related to the instability of the process and to the quality of the cane that enters the process; consequently, the losses that are identified in manufacturing materials have a component associated with the quality of the raw material, which confers special characteristics to the kinetics of sucrose as it passes through the operational units.
Advances in research have focused on the development of kinetic models that facilitate predicting and quantifying the loss of sucrose by inversion (physicochemical and microbiological-enzymatic). Also, in establishing methodologies for the quantification of losses due to thermal decomposition and drag, estimation of the impact due to residence times, tank configurations and detriment to the quality of the raw material due to sugarcane washing.
The work is mainly framed in:
- Intercomparative of standard quartz polarimeters of the sugarcane agribusiness of Colombia: Traceable exercise to estimate and control the quartz error calibration standard of polarimeters. Equipment with which Pol is quantified in process materials and finished product.
- Interlaboratory of finished product: Coordination of collaborative intra and interlaboratory tests of the Colombian Sugar Sector, an exercise that allows identifying and controlling deviations that impact the precision of analytical methods, contributing to the quality assurance of process control laboratories.
- Validation of sucrose balance material sampling systems: Validation of punctual and continuous sampling systems, through which the representativeness of these systems is established with respect to primary currents and quality variables (Pol, Brix, insoluble solids and% humidity). For this, analytical, statistical, instrumental tools and CFD (Computational Fluid Analysis) modeling software are available.
- Validation of analytical methodologies of sucrose balance: Exercise through which the performance of an analytical method is characterized in the daily analysis routine, in order to confirm with objective evidence the fulfillment of the requirements for its proposed use and thus ensure that the results delivered by said method are reliable.
Quality Assurance of Analytical Sucrose Balance Measurements
By means of mass balances, the efficiency of the sugar elaboration process is evaluated so that its manufacturing indicators are vital in decision making; they are fed with analytical variables and mass measurements; hence the importance of generating, in quality control laboratories, reliable analytical measurements and metrologically securing the measuring instruments and sampling systems for the materials of the sucrose balance. This field of action in research has allowed the development of easily adopted tools to estimate and monitor the performance of analytical measurements, sampling systems, measurement instruments and the estimation of balance uncertainty.
In this aspect, the work is mainly framed in:
- Sucrose balance uncertainty estimate: The sources of error of the factory indicators of the sucrose balance are identified and quantified, to estimate the parameter associated with the result of the measurement of said indicators, which characterizes the dispersion of the measured values that could be reasonably attributed to the measurand (magnitude subject to measurement).
Water characterization of the sugar production process
Diagnosing the efficiency of water use in the sugar industry and proposing savings alternatives in water consumption and recirculation systems, which generate a positive impact at an economic, energy and environmental level, is the purpose of the developments in this field of investigation. For this, the characterization of the quality of the process water represents the valorization of the water resource, by associating the quality of the evaluated water currents with the quality needs for use in other operating units; This is how it is possible to achieve better levels of efficiency in the use of this resource. The characterization of the currents is important for the mill because it allows selecting the most appropriate treatment technology according to the load to be removed.
In this regard, work is done on:
- Measurement of water quality parameters (DBO2, DBO5, DBO21, COD, Fe, Fats and / or Oils, Total Hardness: Ca and Mg, pH, Conductivity), using validated methodologies in water matrices of the sugar production process.
Soil interlaboratory group
Within the homologation of methodologies for the Colombian sugar sector, the inter-laboratory group of soils was established, made up of the 5 laboratories of soil analysis of the sugar sector of the geographical valley of the Cauca river. This group is in charge of reviewing the analysis methodologies and unifying the differences that may arise in their execution, in addition to this, new methodologies are evaluated that may provide an increase in the reproducibility and reliability of the information provided regarding the composition of the soil.
In this regard, work is done on:
- Approval of analysis methodologies: Review and unification of the analysis methodologies used to characterize the soils corresponding to the geographic valley of the Cauca river.