Palakkad-based Superstar Distilleries and Foods, run by C Balakrishnan, a former private secretary to former defense minister VK Krishna Menon, had tasted the idea taking inspiration from the Russian practice, where potatoes were used to produce vodka. The idea of a molasses-free distillery was later taken up in the state and the license for the project, at the time of the raj license, was issued to the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) who partially funded the project.
“I was then working in banking in the UK, where I had experience of a similar project to produce value-added products from tapioca in Nigeria. The idea of the first molasses-free distillery here took shape with the experience of this project,” said KV Vishwamohan, who is currently the chairman of the company, which is now renamed SDF industries.
Nearly Rs 20 crore was invested in the project at the time, a huge sum in the early 1990s. “The plant and machinery was imported from Pune where several distilleries are located. It then had to be customized in order to use tapioca as a raw material,” he said. It was then that another problem was noticed. The tapioca variety grown in the state was primarily a table variety and not a starch variety, which had a high fiber content. Additionally, tapioca was not grown in commercial quantities in the state.
“The installed capacity of our factory was 25,000 liters per day and we needed around 1,000 tons of tapioca per day. The tapioca had to be ground, powdered and mixed with water. Once processed, the amount of waste generated was too great. We tried to produce other products like animal feed from the waste, but it didn’t work,” he said.
Additionally, the huge amount of tapioca was not available in the state as there was no commercial production. Another problem they faced was the safe storage of purchased tapioca. “It started to attract rodents and bats. To protect these, chemicals were needed, but tapioca cannot be used for the purpose for which it was purchased,” he said.
In short, the resolution of all these problems has made the cost of production of ENA far exceed that of ENA made from molasses imported from other states like Maharashtra, where sugar cane is a crop major. “The production cost of our project’s ENA then cost us around Rs 35 per litre, while the ENA purchased from Maharashtra cost us only Rs 20 per litre,” he said.
In a last ditch attempt to resolve the issue, the company then approached the government with proposals to impose additional externally brought in duties on ENA, so that it could encourage production within the state, but again failed. “We ran the project for nearly four years, but eventually had to liquidate it after the losses couldn’t be borne any longer,” he said.