Sunday 6 September 2009

Carbon-Free Sugar

TYWIKIWDBI brings to our attention "Carbon Free Sugar".

He obviously scrutineers the supermarket for bizarrities much as I do, top marks for observation, Sir.

This stuff obviously belongs on the inorganic aisle. For those of you who remember little or no chemistry or food-science, the sugar we use on our tables is mostly sucrose, C12H22O11
The C stands for Carbon, H for Hydrogen, O for Oxygen, so, a molecule of twelve parts Carbon, 22 parts Hydrogen, and 11 parts Oxygen is table sugar.

(Image stolen from TYWIKIWDBI)

Take away the Carbon, and you have 22Hydrogen, and 11 oxygen, which, if they combined together without Carbon, would give you eleven molecules of H2O.
Rather better known as water.

Glucose is C6H12O6.
Sugars are CARBO-hydrates.
Sugar minus carbon is water. Not Sugar.

Oh, for sure, I know that they don't really mean that the product does not CONTAIN carbon. But their marketing and display people obviously have not thought this through.
Furthermore, the debate it is really aimed at, global warming, is about carbon DIOXIDE emissions, not carbon per se.
According to my recall, uncertain though it may be, the total amount of carbon, the number of atoms of the element carbon, on this planet can neither be increased or reduced. They can combine together in different ways, and exist in different states and allotropes, but all the carbon there ever was or ever will be, remains the same. Where it endangers us is when it is combined with oxygen, and increases the amount of carbon dioxide in our planet's atmosphere, it causes more solar energy to be trapped, causing our planet to become slightly warmer.
And just a few degrees can have dramatic damaging long-term impact.

The company's rationale for the carbon free claim is that they're burning no fossil fuels, i.e. oil or coal, to power their processes, they burn recycled wood and sugar cane, which merely releases the same amount of CO2 that was absorbed in those materials as they grew. Not a zero-carbon process, as for instance hydro-electric, solar, or windpower might be, but carbon-neutral.
I notice on the company's website, tractors are shown. I trust they and the truckfleet that the plant requires to distribute and grow the product, as well as the trucks bringing in urban waste wood to feed the power plant are running on bioethanol, made from sugar, and not diesel.

In all fairness, the plant looks a model of green efficiency, and far better than most other north american industries in clean energy use.
But it's still stupid to stick a "Carbon free" label on a product that by definition is 25% carbon.

note: whilst checking my facts, rather than trusting to the rather spongy mass I call my memory, I discovered that sugar in the U.S. is significantly more expensive than in the rest of the world, due to trade and import restrictions intended to support the home-grown industry, with a result being that sugar substitutes such as sacharrine and aspartame are far more widely used, as also are corn syrup and other inferior substitutes.
I'd assumed the artificial sweetener industry was strong because of the dietary concerns, but it seems not.