Open pan sugar milling

Open pan (OP) sugar milling is a low cost technology appropriate to small-scale sugarcane production.
Although this method cannot produce highly refined sugar, it does produce a range of nutritious sugar products, alcohol and animal feeds for local markets, at a low entry level.
OP milling is done in most sugar producing countries, but Open pan (OP) sugar milling is a low cost technology appropriate to small-scale sugarcane production.
Although this method cannot produce highly refined sugar, it does produce a range of nutritious sugar products, alcohol and animal feeds for local markets, at a low entry level.
OP milling is done in most sugar producing countries, but not in sub-Saharan Africa, where rural communities could benefit from it. Now a company in South Africa, the Open Pan Sugar Mill Co (OPSMC), is introducing such mills in the region.
There are basically two methods of milling sugar cane. Vacuum pan (VP), or centrifugal milling, is the modern, high tech method used for large scale, commercial sugar production. OP milling is the older, more traditional, non-centrifugal technology. In VP mills, the water in the sugar cane juice is boiled off at a lower temperature than in OP mills. VP mills use steam as a heat source, OP mills use direct heat from fire. Production from OP mills includes the softer, less refined sugars like panela, jaggery (known as gur in India), khandsari, castor sugar, rock candy and sweets, syrups, organic sugar, organic molasses, as well as alcohol and animal feeds.
OP mills are much cheaper to build than VP mills. A large VP mill (capacity 600ton/hour) costs around $160m. OP mills have capacities ranging from 3t/day to 200t/day. The standard unit build by the OPSMC has a capacity of milling 12t cane a day and costs around $90,000 (location depending). Additional units can be added up to a capacity of 250t/day. From good quality cane, these mills can produce a 12% yield of jaggery.
Other advantages of OP milling are:

  • It is a decentralised industry.
  • Processing is done near production, lowering transport costs and the risk of the harvest perishing.
  • Processing is done in the area of consumption, avoiding the volatility of the world sugar market.
  • Farmers can harvest climatically, rather than being dictated by mill requirements.
  • Job creation in the community, as village artisans rather than qualified technicians are required to run the mill.
    Jaggery is a popular product of OP milling. An amorphous sugar that has not had the molasses removed, it has an unique taste and high levels of potassium, calcium, iron and other trace elements. Besides being an affordable sweetener, there are markets for this sugar in the organic food industry.
    OPSMC: Gary de Bufanos, tel +27-35- 772-1188; +27-82-804-75948; sandybuf@iafrica.com