Our four state-of-the-art factories are located in the East of England and East Midlands and can match anything in the oil, chemical and power industries for complexity. Together, our sites produce over 2.1 million tonnes of sustainable products each year, from sugar to animal feed and electricity.
This diagram shows how our factories work and is based on our Wissington factory, the largest beet sugar factory in the world and the most efficient in Europe. Take a look around and find out more about how we produce more than just sugar. Close this popup to begin.
We source high purity limestone from Derbyshire for use in our lime kiln, with the products being used at the purification stage of the process.
Around 3,600 farmers contract with British Sugar every year and between September and March each year, 7.5 million tonnes of sugar beet are delivered to our factories. The sugar beet travels an average distance of 28 miles from grower's farms to our sites.
Gas is used to fuel boilers producing steam at high pressure. This steam is used to drive turbo-alternators generating electricity to power the factory. The steam from the turbo-alternators is then used again in the evaporation stage and with the water evaporated here then used to heat the sugar juice at various points throughout the process.
Unloading / Storage
After sampling, the lorries containing the rest of the sugar beet move to a large area of concrete known as the flat pad. Here the sugar beet is unloaded and stored until it is needed for processing. The flat pad can store up to 36,000 tonnes of sugar beet; approximately 1,400 lorry loads.
A random sample of sugar beet is taken from each delivery which goes to the central warehouse laboratory for analysis. Here the beet are weighed, washed and tested to determine the amounts of sugar, nitrogen and potassium, and other impurities that one sugar beet contains.
Sugar beet is delivered to the factory in lorries by road. The lorries are first weighed with a full load at a weighbridge which weighs the lorry and its contents. Once the weight has been recorded the lorry proceeds to the sampling station.
The first stage of processing involves cleaning the sugar beet with water. At this stage the sugar beet is moved around the factory in large quantities of water, allowing it to pass through weed and stone separators before being separated from the water by a vibrating screen known as a dewatering screen.
The clean beet is sliced into thin strips called cossettes. The slicing machines work in a similar way to a cheese grater, with the cossettes cut into a ‘v’ shape so they present a large surface area at the extraction stage.
The freshly sliced cossettes are pumped to three separate diffusers where they are mixed with hot water to extract the sugar. The resulting 'raw juice' is used to preheat the cossettes and is very much like brewing tea in a teapot!
The lime kiln produces milk of lime and CO2 which is used in the purification process.
Purification (Clarify and Filter)
The raw juice passes through an important purification process called carbonatation. Milk of lime and carbon dioxide gas (CO2) are added to precipitate calcium carbonate, which removes the impurities in the raw juice. This lime is separated from the juice, resulting in a product known as 'thin juice'.
Wash and Screen
Two co-products are collected as the sugar beet is cleaned; soil and stones.
Milk of Lime Tank
The milk of lime tank is used to store the milk of lime produced by the lime kiln.
Dry Screen and Mix
Soil separated at the wash and screen stage is dried, screened and blended before being sold as high quality soil to landscapers and construction projects.
Pulp Press and Drying
The remaining fibre from the diffusion process is mechanically pressed before molasses is added and the pulp is dried.
After pressing and drying the pulp is put through a pelleting machine to produce animal feed pellets.
Thick Juice Storage
Up to 50% of the thick juice from the evaporation process can be stored in ten large steel tanks with a combined capacity of 365,000 tonnes. This juice is returned to the factory after beet processing to allow crystallisation to continue throughout the year.
The thick juice from the evaporation stage is passed through filters before continuing to the crystallisation stage.
After the sugar crystals are washed, dried and cooled, they are conveyed to seven concrete storage silos with a total capacity of 97,000 tonnes.
Screen and Pack
Wissington factory screens and bags sugar, producing caster, extra fine and granulated in 25kg and 1,000kg bags which are packed via a series of automated machinery. A machine automatically channels and measures the amount of bags going through and pulls them onto a pallet, which consists of one tonne or half tonne sizes, depending on the customer's needs. Once on pallets the bags of sugar are shrink wrapped to protect them from moisture before being stored in the Sugar Distribution Centre (SDC), a temperature controlled warehouse ready for delivery.
At the heart of the factory's operations is the Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant. It produces steam and electricty using an advanced gas turbine the size of a jet engine, to increase capacity. This enables us to extract around 80% of the energy contained within fossil fuel during a production campaign; double the amount extracted by a conventional power station. This substantially reduces fuel consumption and associated CO2 emissions, whilst generating even more electricity for sale to the local electrical grid.
Evaporation takes the thin juice from the purification process and passes it through a series of evaporators which work a bit like giant kettles. The thin juice is taken into the first evaporator and heated to evaporate some of the water content. This process continues in the second and subsequent evaporators to produce thick juice. This is then passed through filters before continuing on to the next stage.
Crystallisation takes place in vacuum pans which boil the thick juice at low temperatures under vacuum. When the juice reaches a specific concentration it is 'seeded' with tiny sugar crystals to provide the nucleus for crystals to form and grow. When the crystals reach the desired size, the mixture of crystal sugar and syrup, known as massecuite (mass-queet), is spun in centrifuges to separate the sugar from the 'mother liquor'. Once the sugar crystals have been removed, the remaining juice is returned to the process to be crystallised and spun again.
After crystallisation the residual syrup, together with the syrup from other factories, is passed through a resin separation process. Three products are produced: a sugar stream called extract; an amino-nitrogen stream which is mainly betaine; and a further stream, which is mainly mineral salts, and is called raffinate.
This system captures biogas from the effluent treatment plant, which we use as a supplementary renewable fuel to our boilers. This helps to increase energy efficiency, reduces fossil fuel consumption and provides CO2 emissions reductions.
Ferment & Distil
This is the process used in the production of bioethanol, which is made using yeast fermentation followed by distillation.
Wissington factory is close to the River Wissey in Norfolk.
Our horticulture business, Cornerways Nursery, covers an area of 18 hectares and is the UK’s largest single glasshouse. More than 240 miles of piping carries hot water from the factory’s CHP plant around the glasshouse, helping to maintain the balmy temperatures which suit the plants. Carbon dioxide from the factory is also pumped into the glasshouse to be absorbed by the plants, rather than vented into the atmosphere as waste emissions. The glasshouse even recycles rainwater from the roof, along with other water, to irrigate the crop.
Grade and Pack
All the produce at Cornerways is packed on site in a modern packhouse, minimising handling and transport and allowing the produce to be despatched for supermarket shelves directly from the nursery.
Each year, British Sugar receives over 300,000 tonnes of soil with the 7.5 million tonnes of sugar it purchases from UK farmers.
The soil received with the crop is recovered and marketed under the brand TOPSOIL. Sold primarily into the landscaping industry, it is also widely used in restoration, civil engineering projects and sports ground construction.
All soil received is used in production applications and around half of it is returned to agricultural land to replenish stocks and provide textural benefit. This ensures that this valuable non-renewable resource is used in a sustainable way, contributing to UK and EU soil protection strategies.
We typically receive around 9,000 tonnes of stones every year with the beet crop. These are recovered and graded, before being marketed for civil engineering, road building and construction applications.
Our animal feed is produced in accordance with stringent feed assurance standards and provides a useful energy food for a wide range of stock including cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and horses. It is supplied to the livestock industry by Trident Feeds, established as a subsidiary of British Sugar in 1985.
Each year approximately 300,000 tonnes of liming material is produced by British Sugar's factories, as a co-product of the sugar manufacturing process. It is marketed throughout the country under the LimeX brand.
British Sugar is the largest supplier of liming products to UK agriculture and the LimeX range has Soil Association approval for use in organic farming systems. LimeX provides a sustainable option for soil pH correction, significantly reducing the volume of limestone and chalk that would otherwise be quarried and crushed for agriculture and other lime markets.
As the leading supplier of sugar to the UK market, British Sugar produces an extensive range of sugar products including granulated, icing sugar, liquid sugars and brown sugars. Our sugars are used in an extensive range of foods and drinks including baked goods, confectionery, ice creams, jams and pickles.
Our betaine liquid is sold as an animal feed supplement which increases the feed absorption efficiency in the animals' digestion system. Betaine can also be used as a moisturiser in healthcare and cosmetic products. Our Wissington factory is the largest producer of natural betaine in the world.
The raffinate produced from the resin separation process is used with beet fibre in animal feed production. Raffinate is an excellent energy source for livestock such as cattle and sheep.
The vinasse produced from the biofuels fermentation process is used as a feeding supplement for livestock animals such as cattle, sheep and goats.
Our bioethanol plant is capable of producing up to 55,000 tonnes of bioethanol each year, which is used as a renewable fuel to blend with petrol.
Sugar syrups including the extract from the resin separation process are mixed with yeast and fermented. The resulting 8% alcohol mash is then passed forward to distillation where the alcohol is boiled off from the water to produce concentrated alcohol which is 95% ethanol with 5% water. The remaining water is then removed to produce a virtually 100% pure ethanol product.
The plant was the first UK bioethanol fuel plant and received the award for Best New Project in 2007 from the Renewable Energy Association.
The carbon dioxide recovery and liquefaction plant is capable of recovering up to 70,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year from natural fermentation processes from the biofuels plant. The recovered carbon dioxide is purified and liquefied for use in the drinks industry, instead of being directly released into the atmosphere.
Cornerways Nursery, British Sugar’s award-winning horticulture business, has been producing high quality ‘eco-friendly’ tomatoes for over 12 years. It produces an astonishing 140 million tomatoes every year from around 250,000 plants. The fruit, which includes classic round and speciality salad tomatoes, are harvested between February and November before being packed on-site in a modern packhouse, minimising handling and transport, and allowing produce to be despatched for supermarket shelves directly from the nursery.
Our factories utilise a power generation system called Combined Heat & Power (CHP) which produces both steam and electricity. At several factories more electricity is generated than the factory requires and the excess is sold to the electricity supply companies.
Developing this principle further, high performance combined cycle gas turbines have been installed at our Bury St Edmunds and Wissington factories, efficiently generating even more electricity for sale. At Wissington over 50 MW can be exported into the local electrical grid, which is enough for a population of around 120,000 people.