PhD in Technical Sciences José Marcos Gil Ortiz

Doctor in Technical Sciences José Marcos Gil Ortiz began to walk the corridors of what is now the University of Las Tunas (ULT in Spanish) back in 1974 when Higher Education was just beginning to make its way through these lands and it was voluntarily that teachers gave their classes. He is a teacher and researcher and has been there, contributing to his places, ever since.

To talk to him is, in a way, to listen to the history of the stubborn path that science is taking and to understand, at least a little, the twists and turns that make its enthronement in society and make it a driving force for development both vital and, at the same time, convoluted.

"I remember it was in the 1980s that I came across a bibliographical reference from the Cuban Association of Sugar Technicians that said: 'The surfactants in the imbibition water reduce the pol and humidity of the bagasse'."

"Then I began to try all the surfactants that the former Ministry of Sugar Industry (MINAZ) used at that time, the same industrial detergent, the one obtained from the refining of sunflower oil in Camagüey, which was called Tensol or Jaboncillo, and many others."

And this, which those of us who live far away from the manufacturing processes of sugar cane do not understand, opened up a whole world for the expert, nourished the university theses with new hypotheses, and has been weaving a research work around the subject that still keeps him awake at night."

He is now working on two solid projects. The first of them is greater effectiveness in tandem milling by modifying hydraulic pressures and properties of the imbibition water; and the second is cane oil as a base for bio-lubricants and to elaborate a soap to intensify the processes of imbibition and clarification of cane juices.

Behind each one is the intention of solid contributions that are being channeled, yes, but not with the speed required by the country and its contexts.

"The cachaça wax oil soap is useful for the partial substitution of the flocculants used in the clarification of cane juice. This oil is obtained by refining the raw wax that is retained in the cachaça cake, which is then saponified to obtain it."

"In other words, a by-product, which is even a residue of part of the industrial process and which we have here, partially replaces the flocculants, which costs more than two thousand dollars on the international market and which Cuba has had to import for its sugar industry throughout its revolutionary history."

The expert translates his scientific results for us. "A plant like Majibacoa, for example, applying soap in the extraction process in the tandem of mills should yield around 2.26 tons of sugar recovered from the bagasse, and that is enough to supply the basic food basket of a few families."

He confirms that measurements have been made in other mills, mainly in eastern Cuba: "Soap was applied in the clarification of juice in the last harvest in the Majibacoa, Colombia, and Antonio Guiteras mills, even though the harvest was extremely unstable.

By using half the flocculants and half the wax oil soap, required for the juice clarification process, the savings were significant; perhaps not so much in money, but the blockage is more than that. If for the time being the exporters decide not to sell this product to Cuba, this resource of ours allows us to have a substitute and even a saving on what we already have here. Because what is clear is that without flocculants, there is no harvest.

"Moreover, when soap is added, the sugar comes out clearer and the technicians say that the dough runs better. This part has not yet been researched, but it is a broad field, and we need to continue to work on it."

His detailed explanation of the whole process is fascinating. We also listened with interest to him delve into the years of hidden wisdom; in the research that was carried out in the laboratory of the now defunct Peru power station in 1985 and 1986 and which never went beyond that; in the other, in 1995, which took the studies on the subject, first to the laboratory, then to an industrial scale (both at the Grito de Yara power station), always with excellent results and also condemned to a drawer and moth bait.

But it is Cuban Science Day and Professor Gil, with his deep voice and youth in his eyes, does not stop in the face of blizzards and continues to show concrete results. I listen to him, and I even begin to believe that in Cuba there is no such dreaded industrial espionage, because he shows me what is, in his opinion, the jewel in the crown, aware that he has said it many times and happy. After all, it seems that these projects, which are being pushed by the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment and the ULT, are paving the way for a legal patent.

He then takes out a blank sheet of paper and begins to draw the tandem mills (the machinery that squeezes the cane in the industry) and remembers that the former Jesús Menéndez mill had six mills, the same number that Majibacoa, Colombia, and Antonio Guiteras have. These mills have opened their doors to his work since the previous harvest and the one they intend to continue to implement from the very start of the industry this year.

"The general belief is that high pressure in tandem gives better results in the extraction of juice from the cane, and research shows that this is not the case. It is a subject that has many detractors because that is a statement that everyone assumes."

"Our results confirm that the key is to find the minimum working pressures. Because research in the world has shown (mainly by the Australians) that in the mills the juice is extracted from the cane up to a neutral plane, our research proved that any pressure applied in the mill above that plane does not serve any function, you subject the mill to such stresses that the shafts break (something that happens very often) and you waste energy that can be beneficial to the people."

Although their studies in this sense began in 1985, it was in 1997 that they managed to experiment at the Jesús Menéndez power station, lowering a thousand pounds to the fifth mill, and they were able to prove that the process was not altered.

They returned in 2004, after years of scientific contributions on the subject, anchored in a drawer, and were able to carry out experiments at the Majibacoa and Antonio Guiteras power stations. From there, they continued.

"Imagine that by lowering 500 pounds of pressure to each mill at 'Guiteras', the savings could translate into delivering electricity to the town of Delicias for three full months."

"It was also done in Majibacoa, where 300 pounds were lowered and the results showed that it did not affect the loss of sugar, nor the humidity of the bagasse, and saved energy."

"The fundamental achievement is that we found the minimum pressure to which the hydraulics can be lowered without altering the operation of the mill.
"Applying these results does not require any investment, and the only thing they have to do in the plant is to regulate a valve in the tandem."

The professor goes on to make it clear that, just to give you an idea, during the days of the irregular harvest that the "Majibacoa" did in 2023, when they began to apply the pressures, they stopped consuming from the National Electro-energy System and immediately contributed to it. And he smiles, because no, he does not want to talk about the blackouts and how much they could be reduced if Azcuba would take care of this work at a national level.

It was a young and restless Revolution in October 1959. Ernesto Che Guevara received an Honorary Doctorate at the University of Oriente. There, in the Cancha Mambisa of the emblematic Loma de Quintero, the Argentinian said that the University should be more and more at the heart of the people, investigating their problems and seeking solutions in the places where it was located.
Yes, he spoke of science and innovation, something we still resist.

It is not enough to make publications of scientific results visible, to patent research, and to draw up guidelines. Science demands constant innovation, frontal dialogue, and sensitivity in all those who are new to it. Only in this way, by holding on to science and its good men and women, will we move forward.