FranceInfo, French people of the world. “Mauritius: sugarcane waste transformed into energy”

Faced with the constant decline in production and turnover, the sugar industry has had to reinvent itself in Mauritius. The arduous work of harvesting cane in the fields in summer, with heat and humidity, no longer attracts young people and mechanization has its limits.

Jérôme Jaen has lived in Mauritius for 15 years. Today he is general director of agribusiness and energy at Omnicane, one of the main sugar players on the island. He explains that to continue existing, the sugar industry had to diversify, particularly in the production of electricity, thanks to bagasse, the solid residue of sugar cane. “We have energy plants with very high efficiencies, which allow us to produce a much greater amount of energy with the same amount of cane. It is burned in a boiler, which will produce steam, drive a turbine and produce electricity. »

Until a few years ago, whether in Brazil, South Africa or India, sugar factories only sought to be self-sufficient in energy. Today, the Omnicane power plant alone produces almost 20% of the electricity consumed by the entire island of Mauritius, with a high production of 100 kW/hour per ton of sugar cane. Especially since the resource is already present in the factory. In high season it consumes 30m3 of sugar cane per hour.

Spine

Until now, in winter, since the sugar cane season only lasts six months a year, starting in July, the plant used coal, a fossil fuel harmful to the environment, to compensate for the lack of bagasse. But this practice is changing, says the Frenchman: “Today, with all the environmental issues, we are in the process of replacing coal with biomass, mainly wood, some of which will be local and the other imported. Knowing that the State of Mauritius is committed to eliminating coal by 2030, and our goal is rather 2028.”

Sugar exports today represent just 2% of Mauritius’ GDP, after reaching their peak in the 19th century. The sector suffers in particular from foreign competition. Prices guaranteed by the European Union for Mauritian sugar have been phased out over time.

Production costs have also increased significantly. The result: Mauritius today produces around 250,000 tons of sugar each year, or just 1% of world production, but the country ranks eighth in the production of refined sugar. « Historiquement, rappelle Jérôme Jaen, c’était l’économie principale de l’île Maurice, et au fil du temps, sa part dans l’économie globale a pas mal diminué, mais ça a été la colonne vertébrale de l’économie mauricienne for a long time. It has decreased, but it is an economy that has a very large multiplier effect. If you look at all the derived products, electricity, transportation, all the added values ​​that are generated, it still has an important weight in the economy, and it still employs quite a few people. »

In Mauritius there are still 40,000 hectares of land planted with sugar cane. The Omnicane company also recycles the liquid residue of sugar cane, molasses, by distillation, to obtain alcohol, ethanol for the pharmaceutical industry or liquid fertilizers for agriculture. Even the CO2 produced by the fermentation process is recovered. It is reused in the soft drink industry. Read and listen to the column here

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The Omnicane sugar factory in Mauritius

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