The process of making sugar at Lantic factory a sweet deal
Alberta Sugar Beet Growers' Harvest Tour began with a visit to a sugar beet crop belonging to Vucurevich Farms and from there, a quick view of a beet receiving station was provided on the way to Lantic Sugar Factory in Taber. Upon arrival at the factory, the tour was divided into groups and shown a first-hand look at the process of turning sugar beets into various products.
“The factory's first production was 1950,” said Andrew Llewelyn-Jones, the Operations Manager of Lantic Sugar Factory. “In 1999, we went through a major expansion and prior to 1999, we were slicing 4,000 tons a day. Today, we're slicing 6,000 tons plus per day.”
The tour began with a view of a truck unloading sugar beets into the wet hopper and were also treated to a view of the sugar beets being moved through the factory's flume system into the beet washer. After being washed, the beets were moved through the dewatering screen and into a hopper above the slicer. The beets were then moved into the slicers, which are six rotating knives that cut the beets into noodle-like pieces known as cosettes. The cosettes, which contain 18% to 19% sugar, are dropped on to a conveyor belt and fed into a cosette mixer where they are mixed with juice and pumped to the bottom of the extraction tower.
From there, the sugar separates from the cosettes via their porous walls and enters water that is added from the top of the tower and moves downward via gravity. Most of the sugary juice, otherwise known as raw juice, is pumped back to the cosette mixer while a portion of the juice is recirculated back to the tower and creates pulp, which contains less than 0.5% sugar. The wet pulp, which contains approximately 90% water, is transported to the pulp presses and through pressing processes, the amount of water is dropped to about 75% percent.
Pressed pulp is either sold as livestock feed or conveyed back to the pulp driers where the moisture in the pulp is reduced to 10%. Dried pulp is transported to the pellet mills and made into pellets.
During the sugar removal process, other impurities are also removed from the root so that the sugar can be crystallized and the removal process is done using lime and carbon dioxide gas. There is a three-step process in purifying juice and it involves lime being added gradually. The juice is also carbonated and eventually transformed into what is known as thin juice.
Before crystallization, the juice needs to be concentrated and is done through multiple effect evaporator systems heated by steam from the powerhouse. Once the juice leaves the evaporator systems, its concentration is up to 70-75% and the juice is now thick; some of it is cooled and pumped into large storage tanks for later processing into granulated sugar.
The rest of the juice is sent to the sugar end of the factory, combined with remelt sugars, and becomes standard liquor. The standard liquor is pressure filtered to produce a golden-colored liquor from which the granulated sugar is produced. The sugar itself is recovered by crystallization in white vacuum pans and grows with the assistance of further concentration and addition of standard liquor. The mixture, called massecuite, is dropped into a mixer and feeds the white centrifugal, basket-like machines.
As the centrifugal baskets rotate at high speed, they force the syrup out of the massecuite until there is only white sugar left. Once the sugar is dried, it is sent to the storage silos until its packaged. The syrupy part, on the other hand, is returned to the high raw vacuum pans and the crystallization and separation processes are repeated and the syrup is eventually transformed into beet molasses. Some of the beet molasses is added to pressed pulp before it enters the pulp driers while the rest is stored in tanks and sold as liquid feed for livestock or yeast production.
“Southern Alberta is home to the only place where the sugar beets are grown and refined,” Melody Garner-Skiba, Executive Director of the Canadian Sugar Beet Producers Association, said. “It's pretty amazing to see how the sugar beets end up as sugar. There's a lot of pride among farmers in growing sugar beets.”
(Above): A machine that boils sugar.and (above right): Sugar is put into bags with the help of machinery.
Left: The Lantic Safety Supervisor holds sliced sugar beets.Right: A 20 pound sugar bag from the old Knight Sugar Company in Raymond