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January 17, 2011

Brazil Ramping Up Research on Cellulosic Ethanol Production

In January of 2010, President Lula inaugurated the Center for Bioethanol Science and Technology (CTBE) in Campinas, Sao Paulo. The mission of the center is to thrust Brazil to the forefront in biofuel research. The R$ 69 million center is considered key for the future development of the Brazilian ethanol industry. A recent report released by the Brazilian Center of Strategic Studies estimates that Brazil has the capacity to replace 10% of the world's gasoline by 2025 with Brazilian ethanol. In order to achieve such a lofty goal, tremendous increases in ethanol production and research and development into second generation ethanol needs to occur and that is the goal of the new center.

The CTBE Center employs 100 professionals (engineers and technicians) and it mission focuses on six areas including: improving agronomic practices of sugarcane production, increasing industrial efficiencies, developing advanced technologies, basic science, developing sustainable ethanol production, and international cooperation on the exchange of information concerning the utilization of different types of biomass for second generation cellulosic ethanol production.

In the area of agronomic improvements, they are studying was to increase sugarcane production, reduce costs, better utilize the available soil nutrients, reduce the impact of heavy machinery on soil compaction, and more efficiently utilize available water supplies. Agronomists feel that the increased use of precision agriculture could help achieve many of these goals. Increasing the tonnage of sugarcane produced per hectare and reducing the cost of production are very important because production costs account for 70% of the total cost of producing ethanol in Brazil.

Since the Pro-alcohol program was launched nationwide in 1975, the amount of ethanol produced per hectare in Brazil has doubled. The goal now is to meet the anticipated demand of the international market and in order to do that, special emphasis is being placed on cellulosic ethanol production or what is called second generation ethanol production. The first phase of that research is to develop technologies that can extract ethanol from the sugarcane residue once the sucrose has been removed.

Basic research at the center is focusing on the sugarcane plant itself and how to better utilize the sugars available in the plant and the cellulose available in the stalks. Scientists are developing new sugarcane varieties that are higher in sugar and cellulose, both of which are sources of ethanol production.

The center is also involved in developing small-scale pilot industrial plants where technologies can be tested under industrial conditions and visiting scientists can conduct research under real world conditions.