“Bagasse Across America” Road Trip

Drying bagasse in the sun

SERC graduate student research assistants Meg Harper and Joe Purdon sun-dry the fresh bagasse after unloading it from the rental truck. (Photo credit SERC).

This article was written by Joe Purdon.

As part of SERC’s ongoing gasification research, we are investigating the feasibility of gasifying bagasse on behalf of the Indonesian Sugar Group (see our Summer 2008 newsletter). After sugar and molasses have been extracted from sugarcane, bagasse is what remains of the cane. Sugar mills normally burn bagasse to generate electric or thermal energy. Gasification is potentially a cleaner and more efficient way of producing energy with this agricultural byproduct.

There are no sources of bagasse in California, so we looked elsewhere. Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers, Inc. in Santa Rosa, TX, agreed to supply us with some of their excess bagasse. However, we quickly learned that getting a fresh load of this waste material hauled by a commercial trucker across state lines to California would be a logistical and regulatory nightmare. It was time to travel to Texas ourselves to pick up our bagasse.

SERC engineer Mark Rocheleau and I flew to Brownsville, Texas on March 3rd. The next morning, we rented a 26-foot U-Haul truck and met a Texas Department of Agriculture inspector at the sugar mill. To ensure pest-free material, we selected fresh bagasse straight out of the crushers. The inspector certified that the bagasse was free of fire ants, sugarcane borers, and weevils and provided us the regulatory papers we would need to bring the material into California. Mill workers helped us load 6,300 lbs. of bagasse onto the truck in 30 pallet-sized bulk bags. Mark and I then drove 2,500 miles back to Arcata over four days.

We are now in the process of drying the bagasse for storage while we make arrangements to pelletize or briquette the material for gasification. Look for an update on the continuing bagasse adventure in our next issue.