PARIS, March 20 (Reuters) - French sugar and ethanol group Cristal Union said on Friday it was running at low capacity due to a slump in ethanol demand, despite a rise in table sugar output and a surge in production of pharmaceutical alcohol to make sanitary gel.
Global ethanol producers have been suffering from a slump in margins on the fuel linked to concerns over the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak and the recent collapse in oil prices.
“We are running at two-thirds of our ethanol capacity, 300% on pharmaceutical ethanol, 120-150% on table sugar and even level on industrial sugar,” Cristal Union CEO Alain Commissaire told Reuters.
The European Union’s fourth-largest sugar producer and third-largest ethanol maker said earlier this week it would stop producing ethanol biofuel at one of its plants to switch it to alcohol as demand for disinfectants surges across the globe to counter the fast-spreading coronavirus.
Commissaire said he did not intend to suspend production at one of the group’s factories due to the drop in demand or to lower staffing.
“There are some (staff) absences because some people are worried ... but for the moment we are coping,” Commissaire said.
He also said the recent fall in sugar prices on fears of an economic slump had changed the prospects for European producers, which had hoped for improving results after being hit by weak prices in recent years.
“It is a whole different ball game,” he said.
Commissaire had said late last month that higher sugar prices, improving prospects for ethanol demand and a deep restructuring had brightened the outlook of the group for the coming year. (Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Mark Potter)