(03/29/23) BATON ROUGE, La. — Last month the faculty of the LSU AgCenter Audubon Sugar Institute won multiple awards and honors at the 31st International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists Congress in Hyderabad, India.
Awards can act as a barometer and prove that the institute’s work has merit, said Gillian Eggleston, director of the institute, who presented research findings and received a prestigious honor at the conference.
“I’m proud that we’re winning multiple awards in back-to-back ISSCT congresses,” Eggleston said. “We’re doing something right.”
Founded in 1885 in New Orleans, the Audubon Sugar Institute assists the sugarcane industry through research and education. It is now located in St. Gabriel.
Eggleston was named the new factory commissioner for the International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists. She is only the second woman to serve in the post. Eggleston will oversee the processing and engineering sections of the commission and appoint chairs and members of those sections. She will also plan a technical workshop for the factory commission in Berlin next year.
“It’s an honor to be asked,” Eggleston said.
Eggleston has served as director of the institute for five years. Previously she was a lead scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans.
Giovanna Aita, an Audubon faculty member, and Young Hwan Moon, a research associate, won two international awards at the 2023 ISSCT congress for their research into coproducts, which use various agricultural residues and byproducts of the raw sugar production process to create new valuable products. The pair won the John Clayton Award for Best Poster for the Factory Commission and the August John Vlitos Award for Best Poster for the Co-Products Commission. They also won the Vlitos award at the 2019 ISSCT congress in Argentina.
Several coproducts that Aita is investigating are developed using bagasse, which is the residue left after juice is crushed from sugarcane stalks. She has worked on bioethanol fuels made with fermented sugarcane bagasse and prebiotics that promote healthy bacteria growth in the gut. She is also producing organic acids that can be fermented from agricultural residues and can help create biodegradable plastics.
Her other projects include the use of nanotechnology to develop antimicrobials to curtail the growth of harmful bacteria or control pests. One of the awards she won in India was related to her research in feeding bagasse and blackstrap molasses to black soldier fly larvae, which after a short period of feeding, can be a source of nutrients with applications in the pet and aquaculture industries.
“We are trying to add value to a wide range of agricultural residues and process byproducts,” Aita said. “We are also trying to make it economical and sustainable.”
More than 124 countries grow sugarcane, and the 2023 ISSCT congress included 523 delegates from 38 countries, and 70 companies took part in in the trade exhibition.
Eggleston and her team have researched the benefits of sugarcane and lectured on their findings. The crop is a rich source of phenolic compounds — important phytonutrients in brown or less-processed sugars that aid in the consumption of antioxidants, which reduce cell damage.
“We’ve been presenting data and trying to get the message out,” she said. “Sugar is so versatile when it comes to functions in foods and beverages, and the normal consumer does not know that.”
Much of the institute’s work involves assisting sugar factories and refineries in manufacturing sugar from sugarcane for consumers, including installing new equipment and streamlining factory processes.
“We’re there for their problems and also to help them with their priorities,” Eggleston said.
Audubon provides training, education and service analyses for sugar factories while also researching new frontiers for the industry.
“We’ve been coming up with new, important information to solve problems but also to help with diversifying the sugar industry with coproducts,” Eggleston said.
Gillian Eggleston, director of the Audubon Sugar Institute, speaks at the 31st International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists Congress in Hyderabad, India. Photo provided by Gillian Eggleston