Saturday, February 5, 2011

Our Field Trip to the Sugar Factory

Only the older children were allowed to go on this trip for safety reasons. Here we are at the front gate of the BSI plant waiting for our tour guide to meet us.

The first thing they did was to suit us up with protective eye-wear and hard hats. Kristel got a giggle out of the fashion statement we made.

Sometimes the sugar trucks arrive attached together like train cars. The clever farmer who sent his sugar to the factory this way only has to pay one driver to send three loads of cane. I forgot the exact number but the tour guide today said that the sugar factory processes something like 100,000 tons of cane each day during sugaring season. It was an unimaginable number.

This is "washed" cane that is going into the shredder.

We had a terrific guide, who explained things simply and clearly. He had lots of patience for our questions. Francelia interpreted for us. She was wonderful!

In the middle of the process, a sugary water is squeezed out of the crushed cane. We got to taste it here. It tasted sweet like a thin Kayro syrup.

Toward the end of the tour we got to taste the molasses. Angelica thought the molasses tasted a little bitter.

This is pretty cool. In the past 3-4 years a new company has formed. They use the dried, crushed, leftover cane from processing to make a fuel that is turned into electricity to run the sugar plant. They are proud to say they make enough extra electricity to sell it to BEL (the national electric company).

When I came to Belize there was a 17 story high mountain of the "begasse" (shredded leftover cane). I kept asking around, "What can they do with that? Can it become a fuel? Turned into soil? Is is a possible food source for some animal?" Evidently some other people were asking the same question: How can this waste product be recycled into something marketable?...long before I did.

By March 2007 the Belcogen concept was ready to go... they had secured funding from 4 international organizations with large sums from the US and the Netherlands. They contracted a Chinese company to bring the vision to reality. By 2009 they needed some tweaking but the new Belcogen facility that turned the begasse waste product into energy was built and running. It actually worked. There was an almost audible collective sigh of relief heard thoughout Orange Walk. At first it didn't burn hot enough but they figured it out and it's working now. Hooray for the risk-takers who supported this project. It's a thrill to see the mountain of begasse being reduced, more people being employed, and engery being created from what was considered "garbage".