Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) is a perennial crop that is cultivated around the world mainly for sugar production. Pakistan, at present, ranks at 5th position in terms of total area production of sugarcane. Although there are several by-products obtained from sugar extraction, our focus here would be on “Bagasse”, an often neglected and mishandled by-product that is even regarded as trash in Pakistan. Jumping onto the definition, Bagasse, also known as ‘megas’, is the residual dry fibre left after the extraction of sugar or juice. But how helpful can something like bagasse be for the national economy and electricity shortage?

Firstly, the chemical composition of bagasse shows that it contains 50% cellulose, 25% hemicellulose and 25% lignin. It constitutes about 1/4th of the total cane biomass. There are 84 sugar mills currently operational in Pakistan making it one of the biggest networks in the world. In 2016, the sugar mills received around 45 million tonnes of sugar cane which translates into roughly 12-14 million tonnes of bagasse.

That much quantity of bagasse has the potential to generate 3000 megawatts of electricity which is enough to compensate for the current energy deficit in the country. Electricity generation is done by burning bagasse in boilers and considering its quantity as a leftover, it is quite feasible. The principle is, more or less, similar to the coal-fired plants except for the fuel which in this case is bagasse. At present, almost all sugar mills in the country are generating electricity using bagasse but the efficiency is too low that it can only cover up the mill’s own demand. The major factor is the technological constraint mainly in the form of low-pressure boilers and low-efficiency steam turbines that limit the production of electricity.

Brazil is leading the world sugarcane production and with that, ethanol production as well making it the biggest exporter of ethanol in the world. Most of the ethanol in Brazil is being used as biofuel and because of its large scale and efficient production, the prices are comparable to crude oil. Talking about Pakistan, our economy relies heavily on imported oil for fuel consumption and energy generation. Pakistan spent $12.166bn in 2015 on fuel imports which fell to $7.667bn in 2016 thanks to the global plunge in oil prices. How wise is it to rely on others for such an important commodity that literally forms the backbone of our economy and keeps the wheel running? About time the country needs to realize that it needs to explore new ways to meet its fuel demands like Brazil and find homegrown alternatives one of which is cheaply available bagasse.

Conclusion:

The world is shifting from conventional fuel to better, cheaper and eco-friendly substitutes. Sugarcane bagasse is a great source of biofuel and a possible solution to Pakistan’s debt-ridden economy and severe energy shortages. Pakistan is lagging in optimum per area yield, maximum recovery and technological requirements when it comes to biofuel production or electricity generation from bagasse. Policies should be made regarding the education of farmers and usage of uncultivated land. This will not only help in economic progress but also environmental pollution which is equally important for a country that is among the top five worst affected from global warming.

 

EditorialArticlesanswer,bagasse,crisis,declining,economy,energy,PakistansSugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) is a perennial crop that is cultivated around the world mainly for sugar production. Pakistan, at present, ranks at 5th position in terms of total area production of sugarcane. Although there are several by-products obtained from sugar extraction, our focus here would be on “Bagasse”, an...Pakistan's Only Newspaper on Science and Technology