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Sugarcane pulp as paper-making mat’l 0809

Page history last edited by ecop 13 years, 10 months ago


Sugarcane Pulp as Paper-Making Material



By: Grace Lee



Description and Rationale


Paper is a biodegradable product, meaning that it can be recycled and is used for a lot of things too. However, every year, “nearly 4 billion trees or 35% of the total trees cut around the world are used in paper industries on every continent” (Martin).


In 2001, it has been recorded that less than 8% of the Philippines was covered by the original amount of tropical rainforests, and less than 100 years ago, the country was covered by 70%! At this rate, there won’t be any rainforests left in the Philippines within 15 years!  Trees are an important creation of God to our lives; they provide us oxygen, food, shade, and other significant factors. Therefore, we humans must not waste and take the trees for granted. 


Is there a solution to this problem concerning consuming trees? Could there be another source that can help produce paper without having to kill or reduce the population of the plant itself? Is there an additional product out there that is biodegradable yet can be a substitute of trees in paper making and possibly even for plastic and Styrofoam?  If so, are people out there taking action by spreading the news that there is another environment-friendly material that can be really helpful to conserving the environment? If there is such a solution, what else could the “solution” be helpful for? Would it be possible to communicate with the paper, plastic and Styrofoam makers about the new solution? Is there a possibility this answer can go worldwide and make a difference?


After doing some basic research, I have found that sugarcane might be the answer I am looking for. I have learned that the sugarcane pulp, known as bagasse, is already being used to manufacture paper, cardboard, and fuel. The bagasse of the sugarcane is the fibrous residue remaining after sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract their juice and can also act as a raw material in paper making and many other products.


During this project, I hope to learn, find, or experiment ways on how to recycle the bagasse of the sugarcane, and eventually communicate with Filipino sugarcane cultivators, sellers, and farmers about my experiment. My main goal for this project is to help the Filipinos appreciate the sugar cane plant more as well as teach them how to use the plant more effectively. Every year, I am sure that most of the left over residue of the sugarcane is being thrown away by the common people, because they are not aware of the fact that the bagasse can be useful for something.


One ambition of mine is to be able to inform the Filipinos that the bagasse is not a rubbish waste, but a valuable treasure waiting to be used in a way it can help us all. If the Philippines start to take action of recycling the sugarcanes through different ways, I truly believe that this will help conserve the trees and the rainforests of this beautiful country, help improve the environment since bagasse is a biodegradable product, offer more jobs to the poor by hiring them to work in sugarcane factories, and so much more; basically, whether it is big or small, a difference can be made in this country by one plant.


I hope that through this project more people will know more about sugarcanes and come to appreciate them more. Many people might just assume sugarcane as a delicious sugary treat, when actually, it is one of God’s amazing creations that is waiting to be discovered and used as a valuable resource to us all.



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Common Names and Synonyms


Sugar cane is a group of tall, perennial grasses with high sugar content and is known as Saccharum. A more specific name for sugar cane is also Saccharum officinarum. However, since sugar cane is a genus, not a specific kind of plant, and is composed of 6 to 37 types of species, there are many different names and synonyms for each of the various types of sugar canes around the world. Saccharum officinarum is only one type of specie among the ranges in the sugar cane family and can be translated into sugar cane, noble cane, and cultivated sugar cane in English. Other synonyms include Tubo (Tagalog, Philippines); Canna de assucar (Portuguese); Sa Tan’g Su Su (Korea); Kaneh (Hebrew).





Kingdom: Plantae - plants

Subkingdom: Tracheobionta – vascular plants

Superdivision: Spermatophyta – seed plants

Division: Magnoliophyta – flowering plants

Class: Liliosida – monocotyledons

Subclass: Commelinidae – no english meaning

Order: Cyperales – no english meaning

Family: Poaceae – grass family

Genus:  Saccharum L. – sugar cane

Species: S. officinarum – sugar cane


There are a variety of species of sugar cane out there in the world due to the fact sugar cane can cross breed to each other, creating hybrids (a combination of 2 or more different things) in order to help the canes adapt in different climate situations and environments. 


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Morphology and Physical Description



Usually sugarcanes grow up to 12 feet in height, or 2 to 6 meters, but the presence of taller plants are possible. There are 3 main parts of a sugarcane plant; the stalk, leaf, and root system. The plant is mainly composed of a huge stalk, also known as a stem, which is stout, jointed, and fibrous and stores energy in form of sucrose; the sugar is removed and collected by evaporating the water in the sap. The stalk is also what links the root system to the plant underground and supports the leaves and the structure of the plant above ground. The stems’ color vary from yellow to green to brownish red, but it all depends on the conditions of the environment and the various characteristics the plants obtained during fertilization.  The diameter of the stalk can also vary in size, but usually when the plant is matured, the size normally ranges from ¾ of an inch to 2 inches. The top of the stalk is relatively low in sucrose while the bottom of the stalk is high in sucrose. Also as the stem grows, new leaves are formed at the top part of the stalk, shading the older leaves that are at the lower part, causing the older leaves to turn yellow and eventually fall, leaving a leaf-scar on the stem.



The stalk contains segments called joints, and each joint is made up of a node and an internode. The node is the place where the leaf meets and attaches to the stalk and where the buds and the root primordia are found. Buds of the cane are embryonic shoots that contains a miniature stalk with small leaves. Normally, one bud is present on every node, and they alternate between one side of the stalk to another. On the root band are also loosely defined rows of root primordial. In a cross section of an internode (from the outside to the center), the plant would have the following tissues: epidermis, cortex, ground tissue with the embedded vascular bundles.


The roots of the sugarcane, like most plants, help the plant take in water and nutrients from the soil as well as act as an anchor. A longitudinal section of the root would have 4 main parts; root cap, growing point, region of elongation, and region of root hairs. Some varieties of the sugarcane’s root systems are known to have the ability to convert atmospheric nitrogen into nitrates in association with a bacterium Acetobacter diazotrophicus. Unlike other legumes and nitrogen fixing plants which contain root nodules in association with the bacteria in the soil, Acetobacter diazotrophicus are found living in the spaces of the sugarcane’s stalk.


The leaves of the sugarcane plant are usually attached to the nodes, forming 2 ranks on opposite ranks on opposite sides, and are divided into 2 main parts: the sheath and the blade, which are separated by a blade joint. The sheath covers at least one internode completely and the blade joint is where dewlaps (2 wedge-shaped areas) are found. The functions and the structure of the leaf sheath are similar to the leaf blade, but it is slightly simpler because it lacks some more specialized cells than of the leaf blade. An average surface of a mature sugarcane plant’s leaf is about 0.5 square meter while the average length is 5 to 6 feet, and the number of green leaves present per stalk is around 10 (depending on variety and environment conditions). A cross section of the leaf would show 3 main tissues: the epidermis, mesophyll, and the veins or fibro vascular bundles. The leaf is where photosynthesis mainly takes place, obtaining carbon dioxide by diffusion through the stomata in the epidermis layer, water through the xylem obtained mainly by the roots, and the light energy by the chloroplasts. Other fibrous tissue may be found in the leaves to help shape and strengthen the leaves mechanically.



The roots of the sugarcane, like most plants, help the plant take in water and nutrients from the soil as well as act as an anchor. A longitudinal section of the root would have 4 main parts; root cap, growing point, region of elongation, and region of root hairs. Some varieties of the sugarcane’s root systems are known to have the ability to convert atmospheric nitrogen into nitrates in association with a bacterium Acetobacter diazotrophicus. Unlike other legumes and nitrogen fixing plants which contain root nodules in association with the bacteria in the soil, Acetobacter diazotrophicus are found living in the spaces of the sugarcane’s stalk.





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Getting Food


Saccharum officinarum is classified in the kingdom Plantae, and like most other plants, obtain their food and energy by photosynthesis, the process in which plants obtain and use raw materials (carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight) to make sugars with the help of a substance called the chlorophyll, which is located in the chloroplasts. Sugarcanes are also known as one of the most efficient photosynthesizers in the plant kingdom. 


Climate is a very important environmental factor, because it determines strongly where sugar canes can be cultivated successfully. Since sugarcanes are native in humid tropic areas, they demand a great need of heat and water all year around to have the best yield production. (Usually sugarcanes require a minimum of 80 to 90 inches of rain (2000 to 2300 mm) during their growth period to produce good yields.) When there isn’t enough water, irrigation, either by spraying or applying water in furrows, can make up for the deficiency of water.


Temperature is also another important factor during the plants’ growth. Twenty- one degrees Celsius provides a satisfactory growth, but higher temperatures ranging between 27 and 38 degrees Celsius are also preferable. However, temperatures below 21 degrees Celsius start to reduce the growth rate of the plants, and at temperature below 11-13 degrees, the growth is stopped; sugarcanes can and will not germinate in cold weathers. Leaves and terminal buds of the canes exposed to -4 to -3 degrees Celsius will die.


Sugarcane grows in various kinds of soil, such as red volcanic soil and alluvial soil of rivers, and is spaced from 4 ½ feet to 6 feet apart. The plants are usually planted from 4000 to 10,000 canes per acre. The ideal soil for the plant is a mixture of sand, silt, and clay particles, with some measure of organic material. The soil also has to be well drained in order for the roots to have access to the air and can absorb it. Drains are provided, whether on the surface or underground, or even both, according to the topographic (physical distribution of parts or features on the surface of an organism) conditions of the cane fields.


Fertilizers are applied to sugar cane from the beginning of the planting throughout the whole growth cycle, but not during the ripening period. The optimum amounts of fertilizers such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, are varied greatly with the types of soil, conditions of the climate, and the kind and length of the growing cycle of the sugarcane. The best pH of the soil for the sugarcane is 6.6, but can range from 5.7 to 7.0.


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Sugarcanes can reproduce asexually and vegetatively. They are usually propagated vegetatively from cuttings rather than from seeds; there are certain sugarcanes that produce seeds, but the method of stem cutting became the most common technique of reproduction.  Each cutting must have at least one bud and are usually planted by hand.


Before the plants are ready for the cutting process, the canes become tough and turn pale yellow. When cut, the canes are cut as close to the ground as possible, because the root end part of the cane is where the richest amounts of sugar are located. There are two ways of harvesting sugarcane; either by hand or mechanically. When harvesting by hand, cane fields are burned prior to harvesting the stems. This removes the unwanted leaves and kills hidden venomous snakes, and at the same time evaporates most of the water in the stems, thus concentrating the sugar. Then using machetes, or cane knives, the harvesters cut the cane; a skilled harvester can cut up to 500 kg of sugarcane in one hour.


Sugarcanes’ life cycle starts with new stems growing from the buds while the primary roots grow from the nodes and provide food to the young stems until the stems have developed their own root systems. After root systems have been developed, the primary roots die away quickly by decomposing, providing nourishment for the new roots. 


Something about planting sugarcanes is that it is a labor-intensive work, but planting the plants once usually grows several crops of sugarcanes. After the first crop is harvested, (the first crop is known as the plant cane), the roots and the lower part of the stalk still remain underground. Each crop that succeeds the plant cane is called a ratoon crop. It starts out with the first ratoon, second ratoon, and so forth; the ultimate number of the ratoon depends on the conditions of the environment, the variety of the types of cane, the yield production of sugar, as well as the type of pests present. Usually, the yield of sugar from the ratoon is usually less than the yield of the plant cane, and continues to decreases until the rations are no longer profitable.


Sugar canes usually take 12 to 18 months to mature (it depends on the cane’s variety and environment). Under certain conditions, sugar cane produces flowers that appear on the upper tip of the stem. When flowering occurs, this means that the vegetative cycle is over; the stems won’t enlarge any further nor produce more sucrose.


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Environmental Factors


Sometimes weeds attack the sugar cane fields, and this becomes a problem for the sugarcanes, because weeds can crowd the yield or create a competition between the sugarcanes to obtain resources such as light, nutrients, and air. Weeding is usually done manually, and is done with a hoe. (There are now mechanical cane weeders with attached rakes to make the job easier.) Chemical weed killers and herbicides are also widely used to kill the weeds.


Sugarcanes also have a large variety of pests that destroy and feed on them as well. It has been estimated that 19 to 20 % of sugarcane production declines because of the insect pests and diseases the sugarcanes obtain. Some of the important pests are the larvae of some butterfly/moth species, especially the sugarcane whitefly, the sugarcane borer (Diatraea saccharalis), the Mexican rice borer (Eoreuma loftini), leaf-cutting ants, termites, spittlebugs (especially Mahanarva fimbriolata and Deois flavopicta), the pyrilla, the lygaeid or the black bug, and the beetle (Migdolus fryanus). Most of these pests can be killed and treated by applying a certain amount of Endosulfan or Monocrotophos; they are both organophosphate insecticide. 


As well as pests, sugarcane is a subject to many diseases and caused by a variety of viruses. Some of these diseases are named or are more known to occur in certain areas. An East Indian virus causes Serah, a disease that blackens and degenerates the fanlike tops of the plant. The Gumming disease, a disease important in New South Wales, Australia, is characterized by gummosis (the pathological production of gummy exudates as a result of cell degeneration) and is caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas vasculorum. The Fiji disease, named after the place where it was first reported, is known to cause elongated swellings on the underside of the leaves, followed by stunting and killing the plant, and so on. Other diseases are milder than the previously listed ones such as Leaf scald, which is a vascular disease that creates creamy or grayish streaking of the leaves, resulting them to wither later on, and is caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas albilineans. Eyespot is a disease that is characterized by yellowish oval lesions on leaves and stems and is caused by the fungus Helminthosporium sacchari. Red rot is caused by the fungus Physalospora tucumanensis and is a disease where red patches appear within the canes.


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Origin and Distribution


Sugar cane is known to have originated in the tropical regions of Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. However, various sugar canes are native to tropical locations all around the world, not just Asia itself. Some areas where one or more types of canes are cultivated, grown, and harvested are Africa, South America, parts of Asia, and India.  It has been recorded that canes have been brought and introduced to the West Indians by Christopher Columbus during his 2nd voyage to American in 1493.There are about 200 different countries in the world that are involved with producing sugar canes and various sugar cane products.


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Importance to People


Around the world, a wide range of various uses for the different parts of the sugar cane have been made and invented. (And the good news is that sugar cane is biodegradable product, making it an environmental-friendly product to the environment.)


Some basic products of sugarcane are cane sugar, cane syrup, molasses, wax, sodas, sweets such as candies, and rum. Molasses is used as a sweetener, explosives, synthetic rubber, and also in combustion engines. The sugar is used as a preservative for fruits and meats, and can also be made into a liqueur.


The bagasse of sugar cane, which is the left over fibrous residue after the sugar has been extracted, is used in many companies, such as the Sugar Cane Paper Company (SCPC), to produce paper, tableware products, fuel production and other products. In Brazil, bagasse is crushed and burnt to produce ethanol (ethyl alcohol), acting as a bio-fuel alternative to gasoline to fuel automobiles.


In Australia, there has been a myth that paper production out of the bagasse would never be “economically viable” there. However, Tom Rainey, researcher of QUT Sugar Research and Innovation, has “dispelled” that myth.


“Bagasses could be used to make generic writing paper, tissues and packaging, and help lower the amount of plantation and old growth forest that was cut down for paper production. My research has over come a major technical hurdle to optimizing bagasse fiber so it can be made into pulp for the production of paper, board, structural and packaging materials. This process will be more profitable because the raw sugar cane material is up to five times cheaper to buy than wood, and higher paper production rates are possible, " says Mr. Rainey. http://www.physorg.com/news155537317.html


The pulp, together with the potions of the husk of the sugar cane, can be utilized to create woven furniture, disposable-eating utensils, and generate heat by burning them, as well as the saw edge of the sugar cane leaf can also be used in preparation of tattooing by scarring the skin.


Around some areas where sugar is produced, farmers also collect the tops of the sugarcane as feed for their cattle, carabaos, horses, goats, and sheep. A mixture of bagasse and molasses from sugarcane can also take place as cattle feed.


Another beneficial use of the sugar cane is that it features in both folk and traditional systems of medicine in

South Asia. It has been used to treat minor health problems from constipation to coughs. The roots and the stalks of the sugar cane are used together in Ayurvedic medicine to treat infections (skin and urinary tract), bronchitis, heart conditions, and loss of milk production, anaemia, and constipation.


Even though it may seem like there are no disadvantages to sugarcane, sadly there are. Sugar production from the plants caused many habitats to loss, causing some animals, especially endangered ones, to lose their homes. Sugar canes also cause water pollution and over exploitation of the water sources.


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Survivability and Endangered Status


It is for certain that sugarcanes are not endangered yet, because it has been recorded that about 195 countries grow the plants, producing about 1324.6 million tons of sugar per year. As of June 11, 2008, Brazil is the number one producer of sugarcanes, followed by India. Philippines happen to be the 10th country that produces the most sugarcane in the world. Lately more uses for the sugar cane has been invented and yearly some countries are having an increase in their sugarcane yield, causing the sugarcane to come no where near extinction, but sadly enough a lot of the plants’ production is causing other animals to become endangered instead.


Information concerning the industry of sugarcane in the Philippines is very limited; therefore not a whole lot of information can be obtained. What is known for sure is that the Philippines is a sugar-producing country, growing the sugarcanes mainly on the islands of Negros, Luzon, Panay, and Mindanao. Just 3 years ago, the Philippine government passed the Biofuel Act of 2006 (or Republic Act 9367), creating a certain market for ethanol investors in the Philippines and a way for the development of a new industry: fuel ethanol production. Sugarcane is expected to be the main, or the predominant source of feedstock for the production. However the production of the fuel is very low compared to the production in other countries such as Brazil, India, South Africa, and other regions also producing ethanol. It has been presently recorded that in average, the sugarcane farmers produce only 65 tons of cane/ha potentially, yielding only 4550 liters/ha/year (145 gallons/ha/year) of ethanol per metric ton in the Philippines.


Therefore, new and innovative sustainable technologies are needed, not only to raise and sustain sugarcane productivity per hectare, but also to enable the consistent supply of feedstock to bio-refineries at lower costs and to meet domestic sugar demands. As both the food and energy industries use scarce and expensive resources such as water and fertilizers, a solution is required to ensure a more competitive position, especially within the global market.”   http://www.netafim.com/article/sugarcane--philippines             

by NETAFIM University 


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Potential Solutions


Like I have mentioned in my description/rationale, my goal for this environmental challenge project is to help the Filipinos appreciate the sugarcane plant. I do not know if the common people of the Philippines are aware that sugarcane is more than a plant that supplies sugar. Already there are companies worldwide that are recycling bagasse, or are at least starting to, and are producing products like paper and fuel. I am aware that the Philippines is recycling sugarcane by producing fuel through milling. According to Mr. Cris Abunda, manager of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters (NFSP), most of the bagasse is already being used to produce fuel. He said it is now milling season, sugar cane is being cut up for fuel because bagasse fuel is cheaper than the ordinary fuel we use everyday. When asked how much sugar is being produced, he said roughly about 1 million metric tons of raw sugar is being produced per year in the Philippines, about 60% of it being produced at Negros, around 20% in Luzon. My objective now is to find ways on how to communicate with normal, everyday common Filipinos and teach them more about sugarcane and how to make use of it effectively. Below are 2 main possibilities I can take action of in order to reach my goal with an analysis of the advantages and disadvantage.


Possibility 1 - Planting Sugarcane


In the area where I’m living, Cainta Rizal, sugar cane is pretty hard to find. One possibility that can help interact with the Filipinos about sugar cane is by planting them. Besides, there are many unoccupied areas in the Philippines as well as barren, wasted places. Why not reuse the land for sugar cane production?




l      There would be sugar cane available for those who love sugar cane in the area, creating an easy access  for them to buy them. 

l      The barren lands won’t be left deserted and wasted.

l      This can provide jobs for many people.

l      People can come to enjoy gardening and find the sense of joy by doing so. 

l      Filipinos may learn more about the sugar cane plants as well as the importance of it, and come to appreciate them more.




l      To buy the barren lands would cost money.

l      Finding people to employ may be difficult.

l      To buy the fertilizers, and all the materials needed for sugar cane cultivation, harvesting, production would be expensive and difficult.

l      The sugar canes might not be able to produce well in a polluted, urban area instead of the country sides.

l      To accomplish this step would involve a huge amount of time, as well as contact from upper, advanced sugar cane companies.


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Possibility 2 - Paper Production <Action Step>


Bagasse is being used mostly for fuel production, but how about for paper production?


During our interview, Mr. Cris Abunda mentioned a department of science and technology where they made stationeries, calling cards and such out of the used sugarcane. He said the paper was beautifully made, but sadly enough, this took place 10 years ago, therefore having contact with that company is very slim.


From the beginning of this project, I decided to make home-made paper out of bagasse instead of recycled paper. I wanted to see if this is possible, because if it is, I can communicate with other Filipinos, especially with those who deal with paper production, about the advantages of paper making out of bagasse. With the help of Mr. Gingerich, I was able to learn on how to make paper out of the bagasse. Mr. Gingerich said he has heard of home made paper out of sugarcane, but he did not know any more information. However, he was able to tell me some basic steps on what I could do to try to accomplish this experiment.




l     The Sugar Cane Paper Company uses recycled sugar cane bagasse to produce paper and tableware products. They have been able to reduce the stress on the forests through intensive paper recycling programs that developed in recent years primarily due to the efforts of various environmental organizations. So perhaps if the Philippines starts to recycle bagasse for paper production, the stress on the rainforests of the Philippines due to various environmental organizations may be reduced.

l      Paper products out of bagasse are fully recyclable, reducing trash and waste pollution.

l      Paper products out of bagasse are not made using tree-fiber, meaning they have no impact on the rainforests, therefore helping the conservation of the trees.

l      Unlike plastic and Styrofoam, bagasse-made products can be composted and will biodegrade back to the soil without leaving any harmful residues.

l      This provides more jobs for many people, helping them earn money by easy home made paper making out of sugarcane.

l      Making paper out of bagasse is more profitable, because buying raw sugar cane material is up to 5 times cheaper than wood, and higher paper production rates are possible.

l      Making home made paper can be an enjoyable crafts activity for anyone.






l      People may not be able to afford a screen, blender, and other such materials for the paper making process.

l      It is very difficult to start a company to produce paper out of bagasse without any contact with upper, more advanced sugar cane companies.

l      Some may not take the issue of saving the environment seriously, therefore having no sense of interest to the project.

l      Time and money is needed in order to produce the right kind of paper out of sugarcane.


After attempting to make paper out of sugar cane with no experience, I went to SM Megamall to visit some places where hand made paper is sold and created. I was able to go to 5 main places- Papemelroti, Craft World, Wrap It Up, Grassroots, and National Bookstore. I planned to talk with the manager of each place about the sugar cane idea, but due to the fact they were not present, I talked with the workers instead. I was able to talk to the manager of National Book Store in Podium though.


I interviewed the workers telling them about the idea of making paper out of sugarcane. I brought along some sample of the bagasse chopped into small pieces, the blended pulp with and without paper, and the finished paper products to the interview. I started out by asking them whether they have heard of paper making out of sugar canes. Out of the eleven people I interviewed, only one of them heard about sugar cane paper. The paper on the next page is the paper I used to introduce them to the topic. I also mentioned the advantages of making paper out of the sugarcane, as well as my concern about the rainforests of the Philippines. I was amazed to find that everyone I talked to really seemed interested in what I did, especially after looking at the samples of the paper. Some commented on the softness of the paper, but after telling them that I had no experience with paper making, they didn’t seem to mind and continued on examining the bagasse paper samples. Some of the people thought I was trying to sell the sugar cane paper and earn some money out of them. I assured them that all I was doing was sharing the idea of sugar cane paper making with them. I wasn’t able to finish the booklets on how to make the paper by the time I did my action step, so I will be going to the places again this Sunday to distribute them. The first four places I listed earlier are places where they make their own paper which is why I decided to even talk about the idea to them. The reason I went to National Book Store was to find out whether or not they make their own paper. According to the manager of National Book Store, they do not buy or supply their own papers, but instead they have people who supply them with paper. However the manager said she would be interested in telling her suppliers about the idea, so basically she is speaking to other advanced paper making companies on behalf of my idea.


What also amazed me was that these workers were concerned about the environment. Some commented about the pollution and the logging in the country. To end my interview, I asked them the question, “If you could, would you be interested in using recycled sugar cane for paper production?” Thankfully, every one of them said yes. :)



              Making Paper               [Bagasse / with paper / without paper]        With Paper    /    Without Paper        [With Manager of National Bookstore] 


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