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Ingenio Magdalena: From Crop to Renewable Resource

Leading the way in sugar cane milling, Magdalena innovates the industry surrounding sugar production and transforms it into a crucial tool for development in Guatemala. With 33 years of history, Magdalena is the largest sugar producer in Central America and the second largest in Latin America. Their focus on education, sustainability, and environmentalism positions them as a driving force internationally for renewable energy.  

Magdalena started with humble origins in the world of agriculture, developing over the years to now lead the market in its contribution of sugar cane milling with a current rate of 38,640 metric tonnes (mt) of sugar cane being mined daily. Magdalena takes both the raw material of sugar and any biomass left over in the production process to produce renewable energy resources which supply energy to the National Interconnected System. In turn, the company promotes the necessity for using renewable energy resources, which can then be used to benefit users across the country from in the form of electricity and biogas.  

To understand Magdalena’s operation, we must first understand how sugar is produced and the processes that position such a crucial raw material at the forefront of this company. Magdalena has developed their technologies to improve the quality and efficiency of the sugar cane produced in its raw state and so 24% of the national markets are attributed to Magdalena. From 2020 to 2021 Magdalena milled 6,524,398.96 mt of ground sugar cane and 686,807 mt of raw sugar. This raw sugar is then refined into a variety of types including standard, brown, golden, raw and refined, which are then suitable for a variety of needs. Consequently, the company has been successful in accessing both local and international markets with the production of its raw materials. The necessity for sugar production is growing across the world and thus Magdalena’s operation positions Guatemala as a key player in the industry as it is one of the largest sugar producers in the Central American region. 

Magdalena has been generating electrical power from the biomass produced in the process of milling sugar cane since 1990 when their first power generation plant had only a capacity of 12.5 megawatts (MV). They take this often wasted off-product and utilise it the create renewable energy at their power plants, which had considerably increased in power to 46 MW by 2008, with a further transmission line and a 230kilovolt (kV) substation with a capacity of 260 mega volt amperes (MVA). In 2010, they began construction of a thermal generation plant which ran off the biomass produced in the production of sugar cane along with coal, which added a further 62.4 watts to their electrical capacity. The innovation of Magdalena’s operations meant that in 2011 they created Comercializadora de Energía para el Desarrollo – CED, to meet the electricity purchase demands of industrial customers and distributors in Central America. More presently, Magdalena produced 916.46 Gwh of electrical energy between 2020 and 2021 and thus remains a leading force in renewable energy production in Guatemala.  

Magdalena utilises the by-products of their sugar cane milling in the production of alcohol with the use of molasses. By fermenting the by-products that derive from the sugar cane milling process with a yeast strain, Magdalena can distil these products to produce Extra Neutral Alcohol (ENA), Industrial Alcohol (REN) and Heads and Tails (C&C). Between 2020 and 2021 Magdalena produced 65,966,665 litres of alcohol. However, Magdalena even in this process extracts the carbon dioxide produced from the fermentation process and purifies it to market towards the beverage industry. Hence, in every stage of Magalena’s operations limiting waste and sustainability are always at the forefront.  

For Magdalena sustainability is at the forefront of their values and producing a legacy of positive environmental impact, with an aim that by 2026 they will be a leader in innovation, growth, and sustainable creation in many markets. Sustainability is therefore crucial to every operation at Magdalena, as they are committed to the development and efficient use of natural resources to reduce the impact of their activities on the surrounding and global communities. For Magdalena, their sustainability and environmental impact extend beyond the sugar cane milling process and by-product utilisation, instead, they are a key player in the community, focusing on environmental and economic development, education, infrastructure, and healthcare.  

Magdalena believes in supporting and developing the local community and remains constantly aware of their wider impact with every operation. Education is key for Magdalena, as through education they can give back to their communities to aid in the understanding of the local ecosystems, particularly in coastal areas. Consequently, environmentalism and conservation are of key importance to Magdalena, most prominently seen in their restoration of mangroves in the protected areas of Sipacate-Naranjo National Park in Escuintla and Manchón Guamuchai in Retalhuler. As part of their reforestation efforts, Magdalena focuses on creating biological corridors for flora and fauna to grow to promote biodiversity in the ecosystem. As a result, Magdalena’s sustainable efforts do not end in the raw materials and renewable energy resources they produce from sugar milling; instead, Magdalena as a company stands for cooperative development and sustainability across their localised environment and into the wider industry.  

Magdalena’s operations can be exemplified by its code of ethics. They are consciously focusing on honesty, humility, and a passion for achievement in everything aspect of the business. These values are further seen in the programmes they run for the local community, from contributing towards the quality of education on the South Coast of Guatemala to the improvements of infrastructure. Therefore, they aim to continue to reinforce the local communities of Magdalena’s operations to ensure the lasting impact of economic and financial development in Guatemala.    

Overall, Magdalena is a leader in sugar cane production and renewable energy in Central America; they innovate their production process to utilise every aspect of sugar cane milling to ensure that waste is kept to a minimum, whilst remaining locally and internationally a force for sustainable development. Whilst they may first appear as a sugar milling company that promotes renewable qualities, it is through conservation, education, and community championing that we see crucially Magdalena’s core values of economic and sustainable development. The work they do in sugar cane milling and with the local community positions them as a driving force in the world of sustainable energy production, sugar cane milling and conservation.  


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