Sugar is widely used in many foods and beverages. It is a primary ingredient in many favorite snacks and other treats. Most people probably think of sugarcane as the source for granulated sugar, but sugarbeets were being grown to satisfy sugar demand in Europe as early as the mid-1700s. Andreas Marggraf, the German chemist credited with making a crude extraction from pulverized beet roots, showed that the crystals formed from the extract were identical to sugarcane crystals. Franz Karl Achard continued Marggraf’s work, developing processing methods for extracting the sugar and selecting beet types that were shown to have higher sugar content.
The early days of the sugar beet industry largely took place in crude factories that sprang up in France during the Napoleonic Wars of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. During the wars, the British blockaded shipments of cane sugar to Europe, which effectively stimulated the rapid growth of the European sugar beet industry. By about 1840, approximately 5 percent of the world’s sugar came from sugarbeets. Just 40 years later, that number had grown to roughly 50 percent.
Beets in the U.S.
Eventually sugar beet cultivation made its way to the U.S. The first successful U.S. sugar beet factory was built in 1879 by E.H. Dyer in Alvarado, California. The industry grew quickly. By 1917, 91 commercial sugar beet factories were operating in 18 states.
Subsequent decades saw continued advances in the industry, which experienced growth in production volume while seeing a consolidation of processing facilities. By 2005, 23 highly efficient sugar beet factories operating in 10 states were responsible for processing 30 million tons of sugarbeets grown on approximately 1.4 million acres. Today, more than 4.5 million tons of sugar are produced from sugar beets each year in the U.S.. Beet sugar now represents slightly more than half of domestic sugar production, according to the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.
The facility & the process
Amalgamated Sugar was founded in 1897. Today the company is the second largest U.S. sugar beet processor, growing approximately 180,000 acres of the tubers in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Headquartered in Boise, Idaho, the company produces the White Satin brand of industrial and retail sugar and also produces beet pulp, molasses and other products used by food and animal-feed manufacturers.
The process that converts raw sugar beets into table sugar and other products involves many steps. As with many other manufacturing procedures, this process requires significant volumes of water, and where water is needed, pumps are usually necessary.
Kirk Buckley is the day crew maintenance supervisor at Amalgamated’s Paul, Idaho, facility, which sits on approximately 10 acres in south-central Idaho. Buckley, among other duties, is in charge of about 800 pumps at the facility.
“I have a little bit of everything, from progressive cavity gear pumps, process pumps, and heavy slurry pumps [with capacities] all the way from 14,000 gallons down to 1 gallon,” Buckley said.
An overview of sugar beet processing quickly reveals why so many pumps are necessary. Harvested beets are transported to the factory where they are washed to remove excess soil and debris before they are sliced into French-fry-sized strips called cossettes. The cossettes are sent to a tank where they are placed in hot water, which diffuses sugar from the cossettes, creating what is known as raw juice.
The raw juice is sent to be purified, and the remaining pulp is pressed to remove residual water. The pressed pulp is sold for livestock feed. Lime and carbon dioxide are added to the raw juice to remove impurities using a clarifier and filters.
The result is a highly pure sucrose solution called thin juice. Thin juice is concentrated into a syrup called thick juice, which is then enriched with raw sugars in a melter, producing standard liquor. The liquor is further concentrated in vacuum pans, causing crystallization.
Once the crystals reach the desired size, they are separated from the remaining syrup using high-speed centrifuges. The resulting sugar is then washed with clean water. Afterwards the sugar is cooled, screened, classified and packaged according to size.
However, before beets can be harvested, the crop must be planted, tended to and watered. Remarkably, the water required to sustain these sugar beet crops comes from the beets themselves.
“When the beets come into the facility, a large percentage of the beet is water,” Buckley said. “We don’t draw any water out of the ground at all… All of our water comes from our product.”
This includes not only the water used to grow the beets, but also the water used to clean and process them and even the water used to wash down the equipment and factory floor after processing. A number of sumps are situated around the factory to receive washdown water or any spilled liquid, along with any debris that might find its way onto the floor. At last count, there were 65 sump pumps in the facility, Buckley said.
For years, the approach to sump maintenance in many industrial applications has been to simply replace one inexpensive pump with another when the current one burned out. Increasingly, however, that approach is changing.
“We’d send them off and have them repaired [by] a motor rewind shop that we have in our area, but, of course, the wear on the wet-end parts is what I was looking for to have a little bit better wear characteristics,” Buckley said.
Often facility managers would go to a hardware store and buy a little pump and run it. Sometimes they would buy 10 or 15 pumps because they were three or four hundred dollars each. However, each time an inexpensive pump burned up, it took time and manpower to take the old pump out, replumb the sump and hook up a new pump.
As time passed and problems continued, operators and facility managers began to be a little more sensitive to the preventive part of maintenance. If a sump is in an area with heavy concentrations of mud, organics, pebbles and other debris, lighter pumps will usually fail quickly.
“If I put them in an application where there’s sand or dirty water or an abrasive environment, they wear out pretty fast, and I have a number of those around,” Buckley said. “I also have some corrosive environments, too, in places where we have a number of chemicals, so the pH doesn’t stay at a neutral level. If we have an acidic situation, of course those things come into play with the lifetime of the pump.”
In the past, the pumps that were installed were not necessarily intended for the demands of the environment.
“They’re not like ones you could put in and pump sewage waste with; they’re little water pumps, and people would [use them] because they felt they were saving money, but time is money now,” Hillman said. “Over my years of experience people are starting to spend more money on better quality products. That’s what this is — it’s a step up from throwing a [bandage] on something and having to change [it] all the time.”
Buckley called a local distributor who recommended BJM’s KZN37 heavy-duty submersible pump, a 5-horsepower (hp) submersible agitator pump designed for tough conditions. The impeller, wear plate and agitator are made of abrasive-resistant, 28-percent chrome iron. The top discharge and slim design allow the pumps to fit into smaller spaces.
“I’ve used a number of different pumps over the years,” Buckley said. “What I was looking for when I bought these pumps is something that had a little more durability than just a standard 5-hp pump. That’s what I have in most of these places, and I go through those things pretty fast.”
It is a challenging environment. The Paul, Idaho, factory is the largest beet factory in the world, Buckley said.
“This coming year we’re going to process about 3.75 million tons of beets. That’s more than any other factory in the world will do during one beet slice campaign by far,” Buckley said. “There are a couple other factories in Europe that can have a larger slice capacity per day, but their beet campaigns are only 90 days long. Ours are 200.”
“Campaign” is the term applied to the annual process of harvesting and processing the beets. Because beets are perishable, it is a race against time and Mother Nature to get them out of the ground and prepared so that they can either be stored or processed into sugar before they spoil. The harvest typically begins in late August or early September, and the actual cutting and processing of the beets lasts until March. During this time, about half of the liquid sugar is held in eight 6-million-gallon tanks. Three more tanks are being added this year.
“During our beet campaign, we’re making as much granulated sugar as we can, of course, but we’re only using half the sugar that’s coming out of the beets,” Buckley said. The other half of the sugar is being stored in liquid form until after the campaign. The juice is then brought back into the factory where it is granulated and sold.
“So half the factory runs 11 and a half months out of the year. The other half runs those 200 days during the beet campaign,” Buckley said.
Because of the variability of factory operations, the pumps may cycle on eight to 10 times each day or might only operate every few days. They might pump for 5 minutes, 15 minutes or longer depending on the float level.
Additional technical features of the pumps include:
- Class H motor insulation and built-in amperage and temperature overload protection safeguards equipment.
- Double silicon carbide mechanical seals are located in a separate oil-filled seal chamber.
- A heavy-duty lip seal provides additional protection for mechanical seals.
- A stainless steel shaft and shaft sleeve reduces shaft wear from abrasives and corrosion.
- The pump volutes are cast from hardened ductile iron with 300 Brinnell hardness — twice as abrasive resistant as standard ductile iron. Volutes are cast with extra-thick walls where pumped slurry enters the discharge.
- As a utility pump, it is frequently dragged from one site to another. It has no side-discharge connection to break off or be damaged as it is pulled and pushed into place.
- Top-discharge pumps are cooled by pumped liquid and capable of pumping a sump or pit down to within inches of the bottom. A side discharge pump without a cooling jacket must stay submerged to avoid overheating, leaving as much as 3 feet of slurry unpumped.
- With the slim design, even the largest model is only 22.75 inches wide, allowing the pumps to fit into a manhole with a hose attached.
- High-chrome agitator helps keep solids suspended in liquid and helps prevent the pump from clogging.
“[The] BJM pumps fit a niche,” Hillman said. “They have qualities that handle a lot of dirt and sludge and temperature. It’s just a niche that is more cost effective for companies that are looking to upgrade.”
So far, Amalgamated has installed four pumps. Two were installed more than a year ago, and the other two were installed in 2016. Buckley said the real test will be to see how they hold up during this year’s campaign, but so far he has had no issues, and if they continue to perform well, he will likely install more.
Mike Bjorkman is vice president of BJM Corp. and has more than 30 years of experience in the pump industry. He serves as director of marketing and IT for BJM Pumps LLC and All Test Pro LLC. He may be reached at 860-399-5937.Bjorkman would like to thank Keith Grgurich and Ben Wells for contributions to this article. Grgurich serves as sales director for BJM Pumps LLC. He has more than 40 years of experience in the pump industry. Wells serves as western regional sales manager for BJM Pumps LLC. He has more than 23 years of experience in the pump industry.
BJM Pumps, established in 1983, supplies electrical submersible pumps to industrial and municipal markets throughout the U.S., Canada and South America.
CH Spencer is a supplier of refractory products, high-pressure steam valves and steam traps, along with a full range of pumping and related equipment.
BJM Corp. & CH Spencer