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Is Brazil ready for the reality and competition of fuels of the second and third generation? "Are they Opportunity or Threat?"

According to prof. Petri Kukkonen - Director of Business Development at UPM-Kymmene Corporation - many experts state that the evil, caused by the first generation of biofuels, to our planet can be greater than the good. Moreover, other specialists stated that even a partial substitution of food by biofuel production is generating a record increase in the price of edible oils, sugar and other foods on the market and causing growing speculation in the major Commodities Exchanges.

With this, like several other companies and entities, UPM of Finland is also investing in second generation technologies for transforming biomass into liquid fuels (BTL). According to Kukkonen, the creation of synthetic diesel and other biochemicals from forest residues represents a major and brilliant opportunity to change in a very short time the economic geography as well as energetic patterns of countries.

In Brazil, the greatest advantage for the sugarcane mills is that these new technologies, in a first step, may be incorporated into current processes. This allows, for example, the use of high volumes of C02 generated in the industrial process of fermentation in bioreactors of algae, providing an additional production of up to 30.0% more ethanol with 01 tonne of the same cane. Consequently, you can also process the bagasse for the production of all or a part of ethanol.

Also, with such technology, in the near future our large complexes of eucalyptus in the interior of Brazil, or even places that have an average precipitation below 1,200 mm / year (the lowest level for pulp), will be fully enabled to produce, in a sustainable manner, high volumes of synthetic diesel and more electricity or rarer industrial gases and, better, close to the inner cities in rapid development, or, as a further alternative, even for exports.

Consider the definitions and the current opportunities of each technology configuration:

BIOMASS - A comprehensive term that means any organic carbon source (plant material) that is rapidly renovated as part of the carbon cycle.

FIRST GENERATION FUELS - Fuels made from grains or food products with high content of starch (eg. sugar beet, sugarcane, potatoes) or oil (soybean oil, canola oil).

SECOND-GENERATION FUELS - Fuels from lignocellulosic sources (eg. forest residues, bagasse, algae produced in bioreactors). These raw materials of the second generation are subsequently converted into liquid fuels during two distinct processes: a) hydrolysis (acidic or enzymatic) of lignocellulosic materials, or b) termo-chemical transformation (gasification, pyrolysis or catalytical depolimerisation) of the biomass, a process also referred to as Biomass- To-Liquids (BTL).

ETHANOL - Ethanol is produced by fermentation of sugar plants (eg. sugarcane, corn) in an aqueous solution, which is then separated by distillation. Adding 10 % of ethanol into U.S. gasoline can reduce total CO2 emissions in its life cycle, from birth to discharge the car about 3% (the recent increase was authorized for 15% of the mixture). In Brazil, actual gasoline has 25% of anhydrous alcohol (ethanol) and 20% and our fleet of light vehicles is driven by pure ethanol (hydrated alcohol).

THIRD GENERATION FUEL - Uses as raw material microalgae and cyanobacteria which are genetically enhanced to achieve even greater production values of biofuels in small amounts of time. These projects are being currently in demonstrative stage in some countries like USA, Germany and Brazil.

GASIFICATION - The process which converts materials containing carbon (hydrocarbons) to carbon monoxide plus hydrogen by reacting the materials at high temperatures (> 700 ° C) with a controlled amount of oxygen. The resulting gas mixture is called synthesis gas, being raw material for many industrial applications and processes.

SYNTHESIS GAS - Gas created during the gasification process. The synthesis gas is cleaned and the ratio of hydrogen and carbon monoxide is set before conversion to synthetic fuel in the FT process.

FISCHER-TROPSCH (FT) - Catalyzed chemical reaction in which carbon monoxide and hydrogen are converted into liquid hydrocarbons of various forms. The FT process is an established technology and widely applied to coal and to natural gas.

BIOMASS-TO-LIQUIDS (BTL) It refers to synthetic fuels that are produced from the processing of synthesis and liquefaction of biomass components. The principal source of raw material can be biomass, but also a series of organic wastes, of urban and industrial nature, including garbage, sewage, debris, litter, etc.. An advantage of this process is the possibility of producing fossil fuels similar to synthetic diesel. Therefore, they can be used in existing systems of distribution of fuel in standard engines, unlike the case with biodiesel. Also, they do not reduce food production and do not contribute to problems of mal-nutrition in poor countries.

WELL-TO-WHEELS (full life cycle of fuels, from the origin to the discharge of the car) - Biofuels have the potential to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases because the plants from which they are made absorb CO2 during their growth stages. The survey of the impact of the life cycle study is called well-to-wheels - and calculates the relation between the CO2 emitted with the amount of CO2 removed from the atmosphere between the growth of the plant and the emissions of vehicles.

Worldwide, in general, and in Brazil, in particular, some scientists, institutions and enterprises, continue to deny these realities which were already successfully implemented in competing countries, but at the end of 2010, BNDES (The Development Bank of Brazil) has published an important and comprehensive study in Portuguese which recommends the need for the country and its companies to become more aware of these opportunities and risks (see at: http://www.bndes.gov.br/SiteBNDES/export/sites/default/bndes_pt/Galerias/Arquivos/conheci mento/bnset/set32101.pdf).

In conclusion, the question remains: Which of our energetic companies (including sugar cane mills and Oil industries) and how far are they really prepared for such situations and competitions?

Prof. Climaco Cezar de Souza e co-autores


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