Obituary Dr Michael Camm Bennett (1929-2022)

6 Jan 2023

Michael Camm Bennett was born in Bath and was educated there at King Edward VI School, followed by King’s College, London, where he was awarded a Special Honours Degree in Chemistry.

He then commenced his research career in Colloid Science, being awarded his Ph.D in 1954 for his work on diffusion across living cell membranes, which was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.

In the same year, he married Mollie and they moved to Trinidad, where he took up the post of Physical Chemist at the British West Indies Sugar Research Scheme at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture.

Because of his PhD work, Mike thought that he would be working on the diffusion of sugar through sugarcane; instead, he spent a year working on evaporator scale. Then he was given the opportunity to set up a small team to examine the basic colloid chemistry of cane juice clarification, thereby embarking on a field that engaged his interest for the rest of his life. His work on flocculation has been published worldwide in many of the leading physico-chemical and sugar technology journals.

Mike and Mollie returned to England in 1959. He joined the Tate & Lyle Research Facility in Ravensbourne near Orpington where he worked on improving filterability in carbonatation liquors. By 1964, the research was turned into reality at the Liverpool and Chalmette Refineries.

He carried out research into the use and regeneration of bone char after which, following the decline in bone char usage, he turned his attention to the surface chemistry of adsorbents. He published several papers on the subject and was co-author and winner of the George Meade Award at the Sugar Industry Technologists meeting in 1970.

Mike had discovered the precipitation of colour by cationic surfactants in 1965. For several years it was regarded as no more than a chemical curiosity but, with further development, the economics began to look much more attractive, and Mike invented the now well-known worldwide name TALOFLOC, which described both the vital ingredient and the process itself.

He extended his studies, and by 2014 he had published a total of 56 papers (and no doubt several more since), on many aspects of sugar processing including crystallisation, the thermo-dynamics of pan-boiling, and ethanol.

In 1968, following attendance at the Greenlands Administrative Staff College in Henley, Mike’s career path changed and he became deeply concerned with the need to justify the escalating costs of research work.

Soon after returning to the Tate & Lyle Research facility, he joined the Board of Tate & Lyle Technical Services and set up the TALO Products & Processes Division. This division, under Mike’s guidance, took the TALOFLOC idea into a fully developed process that is still used in phosphatation processes throughout the world.

Mike also helped develop the technology for the clarification of other sugar streams including raw and refinery syrups and established the Tate & Lyle name worldwide as a leader in sugar process technology.

In 1971, Mike became Managing Director of Tate & Lyle Process Technology Ltd, and in 1975 he joined the board of the newly formed Tate & Lyle Engineering Ltd, becoming chairman of two of its subsidiaries, British Charcoals & Macdonalds Ltd, and Farrow Irrigation Ltd.

In 1985, he was appointed chairman of A&W Smith and Mirrlees Watson Ltd, divisional managing director of Tate & Lyle Technical Products Group, director of Tate & Lyle Industries Ltd, and group technical director of Tate & Lyle PLC.

In 1989 Mike formally retired from Tate and Lyle, but continued working as a consultant to companies in the UK, the Americas, Africa, and Australia until 1997, after which he still continued publishing papers and presenting as a guest speaker.

Other notable achievements include membership of the Chemical Society since 1951, being a committee member of the Society of Chemical Industry from 1971 to 1976, and being elected to a fellowship of the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1976. In the same year, he was the recipient of the Golden Jubilee Award of the South African Sugar Technologists Association and contributed to the Meade-Chen Cane Sugar Handbook.

In 1978, he was awarded the Sugar Industry Technologists’ Crystal Award for outstanding contributions to the industry. In 1981, he was a founding member and President of the British Society of Sugar Cane Technologists (subsequently BSST), of which he hardly missed a meeting, and was awarded Honorary Life Membership in 1992.

In 1982, he was elected President of Sugar Industry Technologists and received an Honorary Life Membership of the International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists in 2001 (I apologise for any errors or omissions in listing his many achievements).

Mike also published his autobiography, Sugar Certainly Was Good For Him, and he was as good for sugar. He is survived by his wife Mollie, their three children Jane, Richard and Suzanne, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Written by Alan N. Mead

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