Nothing is lost, all can be transformed. That is the key rule we follow in our sugar factory, and we apply this golden rule at each step of the production process.
Our operations are based on a sustainable growth model that places circular economy at the heart of our approach. This strategy allows the Iscal group to fully recycle the agricultural raw materials we use, and puts sustainable development at the heart of our action.
Step 1: Planting
Sugar beets are planted in March and April in Belgium. We buy our seeds from seed-banks are get each box of seeds to the right farmer.
Thanks to the Belgian climate, our beet fields do not require much watering, which represents significant water savings.
Step 2: Harvest
The harvests start in September and continue into December. Some beets are brought directly to the factory, whereas others remain in storage for a few weeks on the sides of fields.
In addition to our 2’500 farmers, it is also no less than 300 full-time jobs that are created during the four months of campaign in the fields.
Step 3: Transport
The beets are transported by truck from the fields to the factory.
The distance between the crops and the factory is, on average, of 65 km, which allows us to reduce our transport-related CO2 emissions.
Step 4: Arrival at the factory
During the campaign season, a transport truck arrives every 2 to 3 minutes at our Fontenoy factory.
To optimise transport, our farmers systematically leave with a load of co-products.
Step 5: Weighing and tare
Every load is weighed individually. Then a sample is collected to determine its sugar content, which is extrapolated to the totality of beets of that specific batch.
With this weighing and an accurate assessment of each batch delivered, farmers are receive fair payment for their delivery.
Step 6 : Cleaning
The beets are cleaned with water to remove remaining soil residues.
The sludge produced by the process is purified to separate the water, the soil, and other organic elements. The soil is retrieved and returned to the fields, and the water is reused later in the process.
Step 7 : Cutting
The beets are then cut into thin slices, called cossettes.
These cossettes, although they look like fries, have no structure. This triangle cutting helps optimise the osmosis capacities of the beet when it is submerged, and renders the cossettes more solid for use as co-products.
Step 8: Diffusion
The cossettes are then submerged in a hot bath to extract their sugar content.
Once the cossettes have surrendered all their sugar, they still retain significant nutritional value. They are dried and can be used as cattle feed. A beet is thus fully recycled, and no waste is generated.
Step 9: Purification
The juice is purified of all its impurities, and contains about 15% of sugar following this process.
The scum collected in the filters is rich in lime, and is condensed and dried to be spread over the fields, as an excellent natural pH stabiliser.
Evaporation of the juice
The excess water contained in the juice is evaporated until the juice reaches a sugar saturation of 70%.
The water contained in the beet is evaporated until lime-free water is obtained. This water can be reused in the circuit and represent the largest part of the water used in the production process. Furthermore, the energy from the water vapour is also reused to power the process.
Step 10: Storage of the syrup
40% of the juice cannot be sent directly to the following step. It is therefore stored in large silos and undergoes the last steps of the process during the mini-campaign from March to May.
This division of the process in two stages allows us to reduce our processing needs during the campaign, and to provide jobs to a greater number of employees and seasonal workers during the mini-campaign season.
Step 11: Crystallisation
The juice is heated in a vacuum to obtain sugar crystals.
The energy used to power this step is partially obtained from biogas. It is produced by the bacteria ingesting the beet residue present in our washing water.
Step 12: Centrifugation
Centrifuges separate the crystals from the syrup.
Depleted to under 50% in sugar, the molasses, which is the syrupy residue of the juice, is sent during the period of activity to industrial sites where this sweet liquid is used in their production process.
Step 13: Drying and cooling
The sugar crystals are ventilated in silos to prevent them from forming blocks during their storage.
The suspended dust is directly suctioned and sent to the factory where its is melted and crystallised. We don’t waste an ounce of sugar, and prevent accident hazards, as suspended sugar dust can become explosive.
Step 14: Storage
We can store up to 94’000 T of sugar at Iscal. There is an ongoing project to increase our storage capacity at Fontenoy to 80’000 tons.
When the sugar factories of the Iscal group were closed in years 2000, the sugar factory of Frasnes, a close neighbour of the Fontenoy factory, shut down its production operations but remained active as a storage site. In addition to the jobs we were able to save, it provides us with great peace of mind as we start a campaign during which 100’000 tons of sugar are produced in a a few months.
Step 15: Sieving and packaging
We offer several crystal sugar grain sizes to our clients. Each version is available in paper bags of 20, 25, or 50 kg, as well as a big bag (one ton) or in bulk in a tanker truck.
We have many clients who by sugar by the tens of tons. When storage is possible at the client’s facilities, we prefer to use the “bulk” solution, as it significantly decreases waste. In total, more than 80% of our sugar per year is delivered in bulk.
Our Frasnes and Almelo sites both produce sugar derivatives. Frasnes processes crystal sugar and turns into powdered sugar/icing sugar. Alldra, in Holland, produces all sorts of decorative toppings for different applications.
Our researchers at Alldra have even developed sugarless toppings, using only ingredients such as quinoa and chickpea – quite an achievement!
Step 17: Delivery
On average, we deliver some 4500 tons of sugar per week in different formats.
Most of our clients are located in Belgium. In addition, our business policy is to focus on local work with partners who are geographically close to us. So, with clients such as Cargill, Couplet or Galactic, we deliver thousands of tons of sugar every year, and they are all located at less than 30 km from our site.
Reducing, reusing, recycling. At Iscal, we make it a point of honour to fully valorise the resources we exploit.
Upon arrival, a beet is covered in earth. The earth is rinsed off and returned to the fields. The beets are then entirely used. Everything that is not turned into sugar is used for other purposes. One part is turned to pulp and molasses for cattle, another part is used to power our production chain. The minerals are collected during the sugar juice filtration process and are dried and compressed to be used as soil fertilizers.
Beet is made of 75% of water, which is collected and reinjected into the production process. This represents one million litres of water per year.
We have also implemented an internal cooling circuit, which prevents us from using too much freshwater from our groundwater tables. The water used in the factory is cleaned (decanting and denitrification) so that it can be returned to the Escaut.
Although the sugar production process is naturally a virtuous one, we are constantly trying to maximize its potential. Proper control of our production helps us reduce our losses associated with frequent turning on and off of our machinery. We have also created circuits allowing us to reuse hot water and steam so that we can preserve as much of our power expenditure as possible. Finally, we are continuing to invest in green energy production means and recycling numerous organic components throughout the process, by allowing them to ferment and produce biogases.
A carbon-neutral company
Our long-term objective: we want to achieve a “zero-carbon” balance. For this purpose, our strategy is to obtain different and highly stringent certifications. To successfully navigate these steps, we challenge ourselves and adapt our operations on a daily basis.