Maharashtra: Permission pending, 15 sugar mills unable to start ethanol production

Parthasarathi Biswas
Maharashtra: Permission pending, 15 sugar mills unable to start ethanol production

As per norms, the mills have to take permission from the minister of excise before they can divert cane juice for B heavy molasses. (File)

As many as 15 sugar mills in Maharashtra are unable to start production of ethanol as the absence of a full-fledged cabinet has delayed their process of getting permission to do so. These mills had planned to reduce their sugar production and instead divert sugarcane juice to ‘B’ heavy molasses and convert the same into ethanol.

Faced with a cyclic glut in sugar production, the central government had allowed for the production of ethanol — the fuel additive with more than 99 per cent alcohol — from B heavy molasses, directly from cane juice as well as from sugar. Mills normally crush cane with total fermentable sugar (TFS) of 14 per cent. Most of this TFS — sucrose and other reducing sugars like fructose — gets crystallised into sugar. The uncrystallised, unrecoverable part goes into what is called as ‘C’ molasses and constitutes 4.5 per cent of cane with a TFS of 40 per cent. Instead of completely recovering sugar, mills can also produce ‘B’ heavy molasses whose TFS is 50 per cent. Production of B heavy molasses would mean a dip in production of sugar per tonne of cane crushed but this will be accompanied by increased production of ethanol.

In September this year, the central government had unveiled a new pricing policy for ethanol. Thus, ethanol produced from cane juices, sugar syrup and B heavy molasses were to be procured by the fuel companies at a higher price than ethanol produced from C molasses. It was hoped that the move would put the brakes on sugar glut, which has put the financial health of mills under stress. Also, improved ethanol supply was to help the oil companies achieve their targets of blending.

However, the political instability in the state and the lack of a full-fledged cabinet has put the brakes on plans of 15 mills, who were to produce ethanol directly from B heavy molasses. As per norms, the mills have to take permission from the minister of excise before they can divert cane juice for B heavy molasses. At present, the file has been sent to the office of the chief minister as the whole cabinet is yet to sworn in. This delay, industry insiders say, is going to reduce the capacity of mills to produce ethanol.

Interestingly, mills in Maharashtra have earlier stated that given the stress in supply of cane, their ethanol production was to be hit. When the oil companies had earlier floated tenders for supply of 110 crore litre of ethanol, only 22 crore litre worth of tenders were filled.

Till Friday, 98 mills have started their crushing operation in Maharashtra for the current season. Around 39.3 lakh tonne of cane has been crushed and 3.29 lakh tonne of sugar has been produced.