The Raffinerie Tirlemontoise and Belgian sugar beet: a successful partnership which has already withstood several decades. The majority of the sugar produced by our group is extracted from local sugar beet. On this page, you will learn how we go from beet to sugar.
The beets are harvested mechanically. The leaves are used as forage, the roots are loaded on to tractors and are transported to the sugar factory. There the beets are weighed and we take a sample to determine the sugar content. At the same time we also weigh the tare, or the weight of the ground still attached at the beets.
A powerful water beam gets them out of the silo and pushes them to an enormous washing station where they are washed under high pressure to get rid of the remaining ground. Then the beets are rasped into small pieces, beet slices. Now, the real sugar extraction can start.
When the beet slices are submerged into the warm water, the sugar diffuses into the cells of the beet flesh in the water. To ensure this extraction process is as efficient as possible, Raffinerie Tirlemontoise has developed a powerful T.S. Continu Diffusor. Practically all of the sugar factories in the world have taken over this invention.
The Diffusor is made of big cylinder-shaped drums which are divided into compartments. In these drums the slices are driven forward by the heavy current. The water that has taken on more sugar, the so called extraction fluid, is captured at the end of the drum. Now its important to purify the extraction fluid and to separate it from the water.
At the other end of the diffusor the beet slices are pressed to extract the surplus water. This pulp will serve as forage.
The extraction fluid contains not only sugar, but also a lot of impurities. That’s why we use lime and carbon dioxide to purify:
The calcium carbonate and the impurities are filtered. The result? A transparent fluid that contains 12 à 13% of sugar.
To increase the sugar concentration, the juice is damped. The evaporation installation contains a number of high columns which are grouped into a number of evaporation bodies. The first columns is heated with fresh steam at high pressure (2 – 3 kg/cm2).
For the heating of the second column, at lower pressure, the steam that comes from the evaporation of the water in the first column is used.
The following columns are heated with the same mechanism with less and less pressure, until the 4th or 5th column, which is under vacuum. Regarding the consumption of calories, this system is the most profitable.
The evaporation of the syrup continues in the cooking equipment under vaccuum. This causes saturation and thus, the creation of sugar crystals. After this treatment, we obtain a semisolid mixture of syrup and crystals, the massecuite. This goes into centrifuges that separate the syrup from the sugar crystals. This is how ‘sugar from the first strike’ is created.
The syrup is captured and cooked and centrifuged for a second and third time, which creates ‘sugar from the second and third strike’. The rest of the syrup, the molasses, are used for the preparation of alcohol, forage, yeast or citric.
The sugars of the second and third strike, are melted again and mixed with the syrup from the evaporation procedure. Then restarts the treatment to obtain ‘sugar from the first strike’. After drying, this ‘sugar from the first strike’, is commercialized as ‘crystal sugar’. ‘Refined sugars’ of excellent quality are also sold. This is obtained by rising the amount of strikes and the decolorization of the intermediate products. The less colored and more pure juice, is used for the fabrication of specialties like the sugar cubes and caster sugar.
To be familiar with it is to be Belgian. Do you know how Hard Cubes are made? Check out Kelly's explanation in this Sweet Story Vlog.
As where sugar production is a seasonal culture, sugar consumption lasts the whole year. The major part of the produced sugar has to be stocked for a while in silos, big waterproof metal vats who are lightly warmed and foreseen of air-conditioning. As a result, the sugar stays dry and clean. Furthermore, these silos have an increased safety against explosion.
From these silos, the sugar is divided or via bulk or via the packaging workplaces. All of this happens automatically so that all defilement of the sugar can be excluded.
The Raffinerie Tirlemontoise and Belgian sugar beet: a successful partnership which has already withstood several decades.