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Sugar, also known as sucrose, is a vital ingredient in our daily diet and is a source of the carbohydrates essential to our health and well-being. 20% percent of the world's supply of sugar is derived nowadays from sugar beet, mainly cultivated in industrialized nations, while the remaining 80% is derived from sugar cane, mainly cultivated in tropical climates in developing countries.
In continental Europe, sugar beet is the main source of sugar and is the main product of the Western Balkan countries. Sugar beets are processed in the vicinity. Beet trade takes place only in cross border operations, because the transport costs per kg of sugar are too high. Examples are the beet exports from Austria (480,000 tons) to the plants in Slovakia and Czech Republic, and the imports from Serbia (95,000 tons) and Hungary (38,000 ton) into Croatia.
Processing takes place in two steps: extraction and refining. In most sugar processing plants, these operations are combined. However, it may make good economic sense to import raw sugar and only refine it. Azerbaijan imports raw cane sugar (306,000 tons) and re-exports refined sugar back to neighboring countries (170,000 tons). Belarus imports 213,000 tons of raw sugar cane and re-exported 440,000 ton of refined sugar.
One of the big differences between a beet sugar factory and its cane sugar counterpart is with respect to energy. Both factories need steam and electricity to operate and both have co-generation stations where high pressure steam is used to drive turbines which produce the electrical power and create the low pressure steam needed by the process. However the beet factory does not have a suitable by-product to use as fuel for the boilers, it has to burn a fossil fuel such as coal, oil or gas, while in the case of sugar cane factories fibers, resulting from crushing the cane, are burnt.
Given the relatively short period during which sugar beets are harvested and available for processing, a beet sugar factory operates in average only 90 days a year (2 100 hours). A cane sugar factory operates longer since after raw sugar is produced during approximately 5 months, refining process can take place in the same plant for some months. Capacity utilization is the key to success. The break-even volume often lays at 80% utilization. Small disruptions in processing will lead to losses. The profitability of beet sugar production is significantly affected by the revenue from the sales of the by-products: molasses, pulp, beet particulate matter and carbonation lime.- For full sugar production and trade stats in the EastAgri region please click here
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