Indian Sugar Producers

It started as a sugar mill and grew into one of India’s top-ten sugar producers. Today it is Godavari Biorefineries, Ltd., and its focus on integrated biorefining is drawing attention in India and beyond.

With $300 million anticipated in current year revenues, the company produces sugar, molasses,
ethanol, power, industrial alcohol, chemicals, and biocompost from renewable resources. It is also moving forward on trials to produce lignocellulosic ethanol from sugarcane fiber with a pilot plant expected to be on-line in two to three years.

Dr. Larry Walker, director of Cornell University’s Biomass Conversion Laboratory and a director of Godavari Biorefineries’ board, calls the company’s integration an impressive “industrial ecology.”

“Not only are there integrated processes with enough feedback loops to recycle streams into byproducts, Godavari Biorefineries comprehensively handles its would-be waste stream: co-generating electricity to be sold back to the grid, combusting waste bagasse for energy, exposing slurries to anaerobic digestion to produce methane for boiler fuel, running solid residues through anaerobic digestion to create a composting system,” says Walker.

“This notion of broadly and precisely managing waste all while part of a large-scale operation producing ethanol, butanol, and a whole stream of high-value products, commanded my attention,” Walker adds.

Godavari Biorefineries is a family business, formerly Godavari Sugar Mills, incorporated in 1939. Samir Somaiya, chairman and managing director, says the company has always been keen on renewables.

With its primary focus on sugar production, Godavari’s biorefinery has nonetheless evolved “to allow production of food, chemicals, and even pharmaceuticals to create useful things for society.” Though most of the output is for domestic use, bio-based chemicals are exported widely, with Europe its largest market.

Somaiya says the company’s bioenergy goals include expanding into feedstocks beyond sugarcane with beet, sweet sorghum, and cassava under study.

India’s biofuels policy mandates blend levels for gasoline and diesel, “but this is not uniformly implemented,” Somaiya notes. Because the government has set fixed ethanol prices, when market prices are higher for products other than fuel, producers are less inclined to supply the fuel blending program, he says. Deregulation and more forward-thinking policies regarding pricing, transport, and sales of ethanol are needed, he says.

Dr. Paul Zomer, a Godavari director and global biofuels technical and business expert with experience in developing biorefineries from Hawaii to Mozambique, says the company’s model is an example of what can be accomplished “between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer.”

“What Godavari has demonstrated is that in dependent communities can leverage existing policy in order to take land, water, and sunshine, catalyze these with elite genetics, and create energy independence and economic independence. Ultimately, this translates to national in dependence, which realistically is nothing less than a pathway to global peace,” says Zomer.

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