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It's not just Sugar

Updated: Jun 22, 2021


Currently, about 110 countries produce sugar from either cane or beet, and eight countries produce sugar from both cane and beet. Sugarcane, on average, accounts for nearly 80% of global sugar production. Last October/September season the top ten producing countries (India, Brazil, Thailand, China, the US, Mexico, Russia, Pakistan, France, Australia) accounted for nearly 70% of global output.

Sugar crops offer production alternatives to food, such as livestock feed, fibre and energy, particularly biofuels (sugar-based ethanol) and co-generation of electricity(cane bagasse). Sugarcane is generally regarded as one of the most significant and efficient sources of biomass for biofuel production. A wide range of environmental and social issues are connected with sugar production and processing, and sugar crop growers, processors, plus energy and food companies, are seeking ways to address concerns related to sugar production, biofuels and sustainability.


Between 2001 and 2018, world sugar consumption increased from 123.454 mln tonnes to 172.441 mln tonnes, the equivalent to an average annual growth of 2.01%. However, the second half of the current decade has seen a considerable deceleration in world sugar consumption growth to less than 0.84% per annum (average for 2016-2018), while no growth has been for 2018.

Major sugar consuming markets include India, the EU, China, Brazil, the US, Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan, Mexico and Egypt.

The most important drivers which influence sugar demand include:

  • population growth,

  • per capita incomes,

  • the price of sugar and alternative sweeteners, and

  • health concern debate.

International Trade

World sugar trade averages about 64 mln tonnes/year. Raw sugar accounts for around 60% of internationally trade volumes. Although many countries produce sugar, top five exporters (Brazil, Thailand, EU, Australia, India) were responsible on average for nearly 70% of the world trade in 2016-18. Brazil, as the largest producing and exporting country in the world, dominates world trade, accounting for about 45% of global exports.

Indonesia, China the United States were world’s largest importing nations in 2018.

Sugar by- products

Molasses and beet pulp are by-products of the sugar industry. Every tonne of processed cane or beet will lead to the production of molasses, the by-product from which no additional sugar can be obtained by further crystallisation. Molasses still contains a substantial amount of sugar. It is also characterised by the richness in chemical elements which can be exploited for a variety of purposes. Beet pulp remaining after the extraction of sugar from beet is a good source of highly digestible fibre and energy, used for animal feeding. Molasses and beet pulp are mostly used domestically but about 7% of world output of molasses and 15% of global beet pulp production are exported to the world market.

Sugar crops are a major feedstock for renewable bioethanol production for use as a transportation fuel. Other feedstocks include starch-rich crops such as corn, wheat and cassava. Because it is a clean, affordable and low-carbon biofuel, ethanol from sugar crops has emerged as a leading renewable transportation fuel. Ethanol for fuel can be used in two ways:

  • Blended with gasoline at levels ranging from 5 to 27.5% to reduce petroleum use, boost octane ratings and cut tailpipe emissions.

  • Pure ethanol – a fuel made up of 85 to 100% ethanol and which can be used in specially designed engines such as flexifuel vehicles.

There are several benefits often recognised from fuel ethanol use. These include

  • Cleaner Air. Ethanol adds oxygen to gasoline which helps reduce air pollution and harmful emissions in tailpipe exhaust.

  • Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Compared to gasoline, ethanol from sugar crops significantly cuts carbon dioxide emissions.

  • Better Performance. Ethanol is a high-octane fuel that helps prevent engine knocking and generates more power in higher compression engines.

  • Lower Petroleum Usage. Ethanol reduces global dependence on oil.

Brazil is the world leader in fuel ethanol production from sugarcane.

World fuel ethanol production and consumption reached new records in 2018. Global production in 2018 rose to 108.2 bln litres, up from 100.6 bln litres in 2017. This increase in output was the highest year-on-year change since 2010. Furthermore, it was the cane industry that has driven output higher while the previous large increments in output – in 2010 and 2014 – were driven by production changes in the US and the EU, where the industry is predominantly grains-based. The consumption side of the balance in 2018 trailed the production number by around 3 bln litres, at 105.3 bln litres. This difference is not surprising in light of Brazil’s huge increase in production in 2018/19, which only triggered an increase in demand from August/September onwards, leaving substantially more ethanol in stock at year-end. Stocks in Brazil were further increased by record volumes of imports from the US.

From a technological point of view, molasses is the runoff syrup from the final stage of crystallisation, from which no additional sugar can be obtained by further crystallisation. The syrup after the first crystallisation is normally referred as A molasses. If the process of evaporation and centrifuging is repeated in order to recover more sugar, the resulting syrup residues are then referred as B molasses. In general, 100 tonnes of sugar cane will yield 10-11tonnes of sugar and 3-4 tonnes of molasses. Meanwhile 100 tonnes of sugar beet will give 11-12 tonnes of sugar and 4-6 tonnes of molasses.

Molasses consists of water, sugar, glucose and fructose (i.e. reducing sugars or fermentable carbohydrates), non-sugar substances from cane and beet not precipitated during juice purification, and substances formed enzymatically or chemically during the storage and handling stages. Because molasses is an agricultural product, it is hard to establish its exact composition. Climatic factors, soil structure, and processing conditions in the cane mill or the beet factory all influence the final quality. Molasses contains substances which may promote but, in some cases, also inhibit the growth of microorganisms.

The pulp that remains after sugar is extracted from beet has long been recognized as a valuable animal feed. Wet pulp typically contains from 6% to 12% of dry substance. Pressed pulp can be dried alone or combined with molasses or vinasse. The proportion of dry substance is thus raised to 87–92%. Nutritionally, beet pulp pellets mixed with an amount of molasses have the roughage properties of chopped hay and the high energy characteristics of corn. This feature makes molasses beet pulp pellets a valuable feed for cattle feeders, dairies, and lamb feeding operations.

Key Statistical info of Sugar

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