Brazil: Sugarcane residue as a biofuel feedstock

By Lisa Gibson
Posted June 8, 2009, at 1:35 p.m. CST

Brazil could produce 4.6 billion to 8.2 billion liters (1.2 billion to 2.2 billion gallons) of biofuel from sugarcane residue by 2020, in addition to that made from sugar itself, according to a recently released Novozymes report. Development, however, will depend on the industry's ability to attract investments and political support.

The concept was part of discussions at last week's Ethanol Summit, June 1-3 in Sao Paulo. Steen Riisgaard, CEO of the Danish-based company, presented in detail the report's findings at the event, according to Novozymes. "Today Brazilian and European cars run on sugar," he said. "Tomorrow they will run on agricultural residues." The additional production could mean up to $4 billion in export revenue for the country, the report says.

"Brazil, today, is producing tons and tons of biomass each year," said Pedro Fernandez, Novozymes regional president for Latin America. "It could be a very profitable business to the sugar and ethanol industry."

Novozymes and its partner, Brazil's CTC (Sugarcane Technology Center), will study the cost-effectiveness of producing ethanol from sugarcane bagasse and evaluate its benefits, which will be crucial in gaining support from the government. "Our target is to present this economic model no later than the middle of next year," Fernandez said. "Second generation biofuel technology is a product. You have to have something to sell; to present. Is our sugarcane industry prepared to produce more ethanol?" he questioned. "Do we have the market to sell this bioethanol?" It's a fantastic opportunity, he added, but Novozymes does not yet have a cost-effective technology to show it.

The research team, including Novozymes' partners in Brazil, Denmark and Sweden, will continue to work on developing its enzyme. The enzyme blend works great, he said, but the team needs to focus now on making it more cost-effective. The team received a 1.6 million euro (about $2.2 million) grant from the European Union in support of its work. In the next two years, researchers must come up with a cost-effective enzyme blend and effective pretreatment process, the most important part, according to Fernandez. That's more than enough time, he said. "It's important to have all aspects integrated. If something unexpected happens in the technology, we're going to put our money in the trash."

U.S. and EU legislation favors biofuels made from residues instead of other feedstocks, according to Novozymes. In Brazil, the proportion of bioethanol used in transportation fuel is 50 percent, much higher than the U.S.'s 7 percent, China's 2 percent or Europe's 1 percent, according to Novozymes. In the past year, the European Union doubled its import of biofuel, with the majority of supplies coming from Brazil, the company said.

"At the end of the day, what we're going to have is a cost-effective way to produce second-generation ethanol," Fernandez said.