Sugar Industry Technologists Sixty Six Annual Technical Conference

Baltimore, Maryland, USA

May 6 ~ 9, 2007

Research and development: Do we have a tunnel vision?


Dr. Chung Chi Chou, President, Dr. Chou technologies, Inc. New York.


In a paper entitled Thirty Years of Research in the Sugar Industry (SIT 1999), Ms Mary Ann Godshall, formerly Managing Director of Sugar Processing Research Institute, and I cited research achievement in the past thirty years and listed numerous incremental improvement in processing technologies, analytical methods and equipments. However, there are very few commercialized new process/products over the years in the sugar industry.

Dr. Mohamed Mathlouthi of Universite de Reims Champagne – Ardenne, published a paper in the SPRI 2000 conference entitled "Highlights of Twentieth Century Process in Sugar Technology and the Prospects for the 21st. Century." His paper covered the beet sugar industry. Again, he reported numerous improvements in equipment, processing technologies and analytical method, but very few major break-through in processing methods.

In conjunction with a project, I have reviewed the publications in SIT Technical Proceedings from 1947 to 2002 and SPRI Research Conference Proceedings from 1964 to 2000. As author/coauthor of two sugar handbooks and 40 years experience in the sugar industry with highly visible/responsible position, I am well aware of current processes being used in the industry. Base on my best knowledge, I have found/listed only fifteen (15) commercialized new processes/analytical methods in the sugar industry over the past half a century", of which eleven were published in SIT and/ or SPRI. Of the fifteen commercialized technologies, five have discontinued operation due to failure or plants closing!

Commercialized new processes and methods

(A) Review of SPRI research proceeding from 1964 through 2000

    Year 9; SPRI pg# Description 9; Result

    1978 183 Microcrystalline sugar: production, characteristics and application Succeed*

    1980 1 Dextran problems in sugar refining: a critical laboratory evaluation Succeed*

(B) Review of SIT Technical Proceedings from 1942 to 2002

    Year 9; SIT # Description Result

    1949 ; 83 Synthetic Granular Adsorbent Failed

    1972 ; 353 Thermal Regeneration of Powdered Activated Carbon Failed

    1975 9; 385D Talofloc and Taloflote Succeed

    1978 ; 424 New Biological Waste Water Treatment Plant Succeed*

    1982 ; 472 Ecosorb Precoat Technology #9; Succeed

    1982 ; 480 Canesorb Process 9; Failed

    1987 549 Alternate Methods of Polarizing Sugar Succeed*

    1988 ; 572 New Magnesia Clarifying process Plant closed

    1996 ; 697 Ultrafiltration/softening for VLC Raw Sugar Plant close

(C) Successfully commercialized but not published:

    *(1) Automatic seeding system for sugar boiling,

    *(2) Double centrifugal for recovered remelt sugar,

    *(3) UF membrane system for liquid brown sugar production,

    (4) UF membrane system Sugar mill applications

 The above listing indicates that only ten (10) major new processes/analytical methods were developed and currently still being used in commercial scale in over 50 years.

Of the ten processes/methods that were commercial successes and are currently still operating, seven were developed, directly or indirectly, at or with Domino Sugar Corporation and I was either in charge and or involved with the development of these processes/methods. The three processes listed in the above (c) 1 to 3, were and are the first installation of its kind.

Although the Ecosorb pre-coat technology (SIT, 1982 paper) was initiated at and developed by Graver Technology, Inc. The technical group at Domino Sugar Corporation, under my direction, was heavily involved in the testing of Ecosorb products in both pilot and refining scale in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. A paper on the subject was published at SIT 51st annual meeting (SIT paper #630), co-authored by myself and Dr. George Jasovsky of Graver Technology.

My technical group also successfully carried out extensive pilot testing of Putsch membrane filter (not listed above) for carbonate cake dewatering at Baltimore refinery which, after the testing, installed the first two Putsch membrane filters in the US cane sugar refining industries.

Avoidable failed processes

Some of the commercially failed projects could have been avoided by prudent sugar technologists with vision and technology insight, as shown below:

1) Synthetic granular adsorbents (SIT paper # 83)—the product was developed to replace granular activated carbon (GAC) and bone char. The product failed, among other parameters, due to insufficient internal surface for adsorption of sugar colorants. GAC and bone char have surface area of over 1000 and 100 square meters, respectively, per gram. It is practically very difficult to create such large surface area in synthetic materials in large scale.

2) Thermal Regeneration of Powdered Activated Carbon (SIT paper # 353) — PAC for liquid sugar production without regeneration and reused is expensive. I had evaluated the process and decided against it because of high carbon loss using infrared as heating source and safety concern due its short retention time for regeneration.

3) Canesorb Process (SIT paper#480).

The Process involved adding 15 to 20% of GAC into the bone char system for decolorization. The process obviously increased significantly the decolorization capacity of the bone char system due to the simple fact that GAC has 10 times more adsorption surface area than that of bone char as previously indicated.

A prudent sugar technologist with broad vision/perspective should know that the process is not technically feasible and sound due to the fact that GAC needs to be regenerated at over 1800 degree F which is 800 degree higher than the regeneration temperature of bone char, All bone char kilns structurally were built to regenerate bone char at 1200 degree F maximum.

The Canesrob process was destined to fail. Unfortunately all sugar refineries, except Domino Sugar Corporation, in North America installed the process, Domino sugar decided against it with my recommendation. All the refineries, which installed the process, abandon it at significant cost several years later. I have listed below some reasons accountable for a fail project

Why a Project fails

    1) Don’t follow through

    2) Don’t delegate

    3) Don’t show up for meeting

    4) Don’t communicate

    5) Don’t do assigned work

    6) Be negative

    7) Be provincial

    8) Technically shortsighted

    9) Don’t see the broad picture/perspective

    10) Don’t accept change

    11) Don’t contribute

Successful project: an example

Alternate method of polarizing sugar

This is one of my favorite successful projects because it has taken seven to eight years to develop, implement in the international raw sugar trade, protect our environment and prevent lead poisoning. The conventional methods for polarizing raw sugar needed to clarify the solution with wet lead solution which is toxic.

Lead affects the central nervous system, and the most acute cases of lead poisoning can lead to death. Lower exposures are associated with coma, convulsions, and damage to the brain, kidneys, and bone marrow. Trace lead level in blood have been associated with reduced intelligence, impaired hearing, and decreased growth. Since our new procedure eliminate the use of wet lead and prevent the lead poisoning, and protect the environment, I considerthis accomplishment as my significant contribution to humanity

The wet lead method removed the solution color so that pol. can be measured at a wavelength of 589 nm. In the new method, the pol. is measured at near Infrared region of 882.6 nm avoiding color interference, therefore eliminating the need for wet lead sub- acetate for color removal

We continued to work with New York Sugar Trade Laboratory evaluating/comparing the results from the two methods over 1500 samples. The weighted average difference is + 0.005. Two more papers are published at SIT conferences. In 1992/1993, we eventually make the new non-lead procedure integrated into the New York Coffee and Sugar Exchange official method for raw sugar analysis in international trade. It was a very difficult job but our effortand perseverance paid off. The new procedure has been adopted by ICUMSA since then, and commonly used in the western countries.

Management of Research and Development

I have spent most of my 40 years professional life in the sugar field (over 35 years in process, product and analytical method development in the sugar industry: first with Taiwan Sugar Corporation and then at Domino Sugar for 30 years, followed by Sugar Processing Research Institute as managing director, and finally as an independent sugar technologist/scientist doing some R&D in cooperation with several R&D Institutes/companiesaround the world). My most recent publication in this field includes:

(a) Selling R&D to your management at a "symposium on advanced technology for raw sugar, cane and beet refined sugar production" sponsored by SPRI, Sept 8-10, 1999.

(b) Process Development projects for the new millennium in SIT Technical Proceeding 2001 paper # 801.

Management is the key to successful R&D. Each organization has its own well organized/established system/procedure to ensure its success and protection of inventions. However, it would take a minimum of two years and as long as ten years, from inception to completion of a successful project depending on the scope and complexity of the project, the resources commitment of the organization, and the experience, prior knowledge/information,talent and motivation of staff involved.

How to succeed

Selection of process/productmethods for development

Research management at sugar companies and their suppliers continuously strive to study and develop potential new products/processes to satisfy the need for cost reduction and profit improvement. A successful project requires complete understanding of existing process including the pros and cons of current practices. The new potential process/product should be simple and can be implemented with minimal capital cost.

Management is the key to a successful R&D. Each organization has its own well organized/established system/procedure to ensure its success and protection of inventions. However, a successful project involves at least the following four distinct steps:

    Selection of projects

    Research and development phase

    Development of market and distribution network

    Manufacturing/production which involve establishment of process control parameter, quality control system and regulatory compliance and or sourcing of contract manufacturer.

The table 1 below is the summary of a presentation at Tokyo University of fishery, November 2001, organized by Dr. Yumiko Yoshie and sponsored by the department head, Dr. Takeshi Suzuki in association with my development of sugar cane antioxidant (patent pending).

Scope of research and development deliberation (Table 1)

    Establish the Need : Justification includes (a) Energy Requirement, (b) Material Cost, (c) Manning Reduction, (d) Yield Improvement, (e) Process Improvement, (f) ReplacementCost,ment (g) Maintenance Cost, (h) Product Quality Improvement, (i) New Product Development ,(j) Environmental Assurance, (k) New/Developing Technology, (l) Alternative Production Methods

    Evaluate technical feasibility

      a) Review and evaluation of literature / published papers based on researchers’ training and educational level

      b) Available advertised technical brochure

      c) Past experience and prior knowledge/information (internal & external)

      d) Preliminary laboratory tests

      e) Regulatory requirements

    Assess the economic of commercial production if technically successful

      a) Cost of production (directly and/or contract manufacturing)

      b) Cost of regulatory compliance

      c) Cost of marketing

      d) Capital investment

      e) Cash flow of the company


       Estimate cost of research and development

      Submit report of justification of the R & D project for initial approval

      Submit the research protocol (see attachment) for final approval

Research management at sugar companies and their suppliers continuously strive to study and develop potential new products/processes to satisfy the need for cost reduction and profit improvement. A successful project requires complete understanding of existing process including pro and con of current practices. The new potential process/product should be simple and can be implemented with minimal capital cost.

Please note that experienced and competent technologists should be able to assess the probability of technical success with significant degree of certainty. Undercurrent competitive business environment in a global economy, I would not undertake any project with probability of technical success of less than 65%.

Challenges for 21st century-new sugar refinery design criteria

(1) Energy usage:

Take 100 Kg of 65 brix sugar liquor to produce dry sugar:

(a) Water to be evaporated to 75 brix ----------13.3 Kg

(b) Steam needed using three effect evaporator with 2.5 time efficiency ----- 5.3 Kg

(c) Steam needed for evaporation at vacuum pans---------- 21.7 Kg

(d) Total steam needed for 100 Kg of raw sugar ------------ 41.5 Kg

Therefore steam/energy needed should be less than 41.5% of raw sugar if surface condensers are used.

Conclusion: why the average usage of steam is more than 115% of raw sugar. What has to be done to reduce the steam consumption?

(2) Water usage:

Take 100Kg of 65 brix sugar liquor:

(a) Water needed is 35 Kg per 65 Kg of raw sugar

(b) Water to be recovered by surface condensers is 21.7 Kg

(c) Total water needed % raw sugar = (35-21.7)x 100/65= 20.5%.

Conclusion: why the average usage is over 60%.


(3) Power requirement:

If 85 kwh is needed for one ton of regular raw sugar, The achievable target of the VLC raw sugar should be less than 60 kwh/ton of raw sugar.


(4) Sucrose loss:

Sucrose loss averaged about one (1) % of raw sugar, with as high a 2% for phosphatation refinery and as low as 0.4 % for a carbonation refinery.


(5) Sugar yield:

Take 99. 3 pol. VLC raw sugar

(a) Sucrose carried to molasses 0.73 % at molasses purity of 55.

(b) Sucrose loss at 0.6%.

Sucrose yield = 97.97% based raw sugar, or

Pol. Yield = 98.66% based on pol.


last updated 10/22/2017