A refined approach to concrete chemistry

BSC sugar cane

As a valuable commodity, the sugar industry generates around $4 billion for the Australian economy every year.

Since the first arrival of the dense fibre and sucrose-rich plant to Australia, sugar cane fields have expanded across the eastern coastline, particularly well-suited to the tropical conditions of Northern New South Wales and Queensland.

Referred to in the sugar business as ‘crushing season,’ the sugar cane harvest begins in June and lasts for about five months a year.

BSC’s Michael Rowe says the harvesting and processing of sugar cane presents some interesting challenges to BSC’s business.

“During peak crushing season, growing, milling, and refining operations are hot and humid conditions permeated by sticky sugar juices which are highly corrosive to the concrete foundations the mills are built on,” he says.

In the construction world, perfectly good concrete can often become damaged due to chemical attacks on the hardened surface.

Because concrete has organic properties, hydrated concrete behaves differently to cured concrete. Trace amounts of sugar in freshly mixed wet concrete have been proven to impede the aggregate from curing.

However, the greatest risk to the integrity of a solid concrete is acidic liquids, according to Rowe.

When sugar cane arrives at a mill, it is broken down from cane to shredded fibre. The shredded cane goes through a series of milling processes where the fibre and juices are separated, lime juice is added for pH balancing and the juice is heated and clarified to extract dirt and impurities.

“The addition of lime makes the sugar juice acidic,” said Rowe.

“Combined with calcium compounds found in cement this begins the process of erosion resulting in disintegration of the concrete.”

A range of costly issues can arise during this process, notably damage to the concrete floors, ramps, loading docks, and concrete pillars in areas where workers and mobile plant equipment are moving around, and sugar cane juice is present.

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