Shell and Cosan invest $1 bn in Brazilian biofuels

Originally posted on BiofuelCentral.org by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Everyone knows that Royal Dutch Shell is a giant in the global petroleum industry, but did you know that Raízen (Shell and Cosan’s joint biofuel venture) is Brazil’s 3rd-largest energy company?

Now Shell the petroleum giant and Cosan the sugar giant have teamed up to invest $1 billion dollars over the next 10 years in 2nd generation biofuels sourced from sugarcane.

Raízen, the joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and Cosan Ltd, is the third-largest energy company in Brazil in terms of revenue. Image courtesy of Raízen.
Raízen, the joint biofuel venture between Royal Dutch Shell and Cosan Ltd. is the 3rd-largest energy company in Brazil. Image courtesy of Raízen.

The sweet part of this deal (apart from the sugarcane) is that both companies have committed to bring 1st generation biofuel production practices to an end, replacing those practices with 2nd generation technology, making Brazilian biofuels orders-of-magnitude cleaner.

Growing sugarcane for biofuel in Brazil usually means harvesting the cane of the sugarcane plant, leaving the rest of the plant behind. All of the ‘bagasse’ or ‘stover’ as it’s sometimes called, goes up in smoke as the fields are burned by the farmers twice per year. (Due to Brazil’s climate and nutrient-dense soil, sugarcane growth is explosive and Brazilian farmers can harvest 2 crops of sugarcane per year)

So much smoke and CO2 is generated from this 1st generation practice that NASA says it is able to detect changes in the Earth’s airmass for many weeks after millions of acres of sugarcane fields are burned in Brazil.

Happily, that’s going away now as Raízen will harvest the bagasse immediately after the main sugarcane harvest and process it with enzymes in cellulosic bioreactors, converting it into very pure ethanol.

All the benefits of ethanol biofuel — but without the (1st generation) drawbacks

Nothing will change with regards to the same fast, reliable, and simple process presently employed to produce biofuel from the sugarcane itself.

But harvesting the bagasse, changes everything as millions of acres of fields no longer need to be burned twice per year in order to remove the millions of tonnes of leftover plant material.

Due to advances in cellulosic biofuel technology, the leaves, roots and other parts of the sugarcane plant can be used in new cellulosic biofuel reactors (basically, a 500,000 gallon soup pot) to produce very high quality ethanol (or biodiesel, depending on the enzymes chosen and the process employed) at a moderate cost.

Raízen will increase their annual biofuel output by 50% to 1 billion litres — which is roughly equivalent to 106 million US gallons

No doubt that most of this newfound ethanol will be used to power cars within Brazil as all gasoline in the country must have a minimum 25% ethanol component — known as the E25 blend. If you choose the ‘other pump’ at the gas station, you can fuel your car with 100% ethanol, assuming your car is E100 compatible.

There are no longer any light vehicles in Brazil running on pure gasoline

Since 1976 the government made it mandatory to blend anhydrous ethanol with gasoline, fluctuating between 10% to 22%, and requiring just a minor adjustment on regular gasoline engines.

In 1993 the mandatory blend was fixed by law at 22% anhydrous ethanol (E22) by volume in the entire country, but with leeway to the Executive to set different percentages of ethanol within pre-established boundaries.

In 2003 these limits were set at a minimum of 20% and a maximum of 25%. Since July 1, 2007 the mandatory blend is 25% of anhydrous ethanol and 75% gasoline or E25 blend.

The Brazilian car manufacturing industry developed flexible-fuel vehicles that can run on any proportion of gasoline (E20-E25 blend) and hydrous ethanol (E100).

Introduced in the market in 2003, flex vehicles became a commercial success, reaching a record 92.3% share of all new cars and light vehicle sales for 2009.

By December 2009 they represented 39% of Brazil’s registered Otto cycle light motor vehicle fleet, and the cumulative production of flex-fuel cars and light commercial vehicles reached the milestone of 10 million vehicles in March 2010, and 15.3 million units by March 2012.

By mid-2010 there were 70 flex models available in the market manufactured from 11 major carmakers.

The success of “flex” vehicles, together with the mandatory E25 blend throughout the country, allowed ethanol fuel consumption in the country to achieve a 50% market share of the gasoline-powered fleet in February 2008.

In terms of energy equivalent, sugarcane ethanol represented 17.6% of the country’s total energy consumption by the transport sector in 2008. — José Goldemberg, the father of the Brazilian biofuel industry, as quoted by CleanTechnica.com

If all ethanol producers in Brazil follow Raízen’s lead, the country could soon be exporting millions of litres of very pure (clean burning) and very clean (sustainable agriculture practices) ethanol biofuel

As far as the cost is concerned, producing second generation cellulosic oil is more costly than that of ethanol, produced from other sources. Raizen’s Agro-Industrial Director, Joao Alberto Abreu, expects costs to decrease over time as enzymes needed for production become more easily available.

Brazil is the biggest ethanol producer in the world and one of the biggest exporters of biofuel.

Many ethanol producers have been struggling over the past few years but there are encouraging signs as domestic demand for ethanol is on the rise, while the opportunity to export cellulosic ethanol might grow in the near future.

It looks like 2nd generation biofuel production practices have won in Brazil. Competitors will be forced to emulate Raízen’s lead rather than continue to send millions of dollars worth of product up in smoke at each harvest

All in all, a very sweet deal. Congratulations to Shell and Cosan on their Raízen joint venture.

South African Airways switching to tobacco biofuels

Originally posted at www.southafrica.info

South African farmers will soon harvest their first crop of energy-rich tobacco plants, an important step towards using the plants to make sustainable aviation biofuels, South African Airways (SAA) and American aeroplane maker Boeing announced yesterday

Solaris plantation in South Africa
Solaris plants, a new hybrid type of tobacco plant at a test farm in South Africa’s Limpopo province will provide biofuels for South African Airways jets. (Photo: SkyNRG)

SAA and Boeing, along with partners SkyNRG and Sunchem SA, also officially launched Project Solaris, their collaborative effort to develop an aviation biofuel supply chain using a nicotine-free, GMO-free tobacco plant called Solaris.

Company representatives and industry stakeholders visited commercial and community farms in Marble Hall, Limpopo Province, where 50 hectares of Solaris have been planted.

The test crop will be harvested for the first time in December.

Oil from the plant’s seeds may be converted into bio-jet fuel as early as 2015, with a test flight by SAA as soon as practicable.

Sustainable

“SAA continues to work towards becoming the most environmentally sustainable airline in the world and is committed to a better way of conducting business,” said Ian Cruickshank, the airline’s environmental affairs specialist.

It plans to scale-up its use of biofuels for its flights to 20-million litres in 2017, before reaching 400-million litres by 2023

“The impact that the biofuel programme will have on South Africans is astounding: thousands of jobs, mostly in rural areas; new skills and technology; energy security and stability; and macro-economic benefits to South Africa; and, of course, a massive reduction in the amount of CO2 that is emitted into our atmosphere.”

Lower costs

It would also lower the fuel costs of SAA, which contributed between 39% and 41% of the state-owned airline’s total operating costs.

“It is very exciting to see early progress in South Africa towards developing sustainable aviation biofuels from energy-producing tobacco plants,” said J Miguel Santos, the Boeing International managing director for Africa.

“Boeing strongly believes that our aviation biofuel collaboration with South African Airways will benefit the environment and public health while providing new economic opportunities for South Africa’s small farmers.

“This project also positions our valued airline customer to gain a long-term, viable domestic fuel supply and improve South Africa’s national balance of payments.”

Collaboration

The farm visits followed the announcement in August that SAA, Boeing and SkyNRG, an international market leader for bio-jet fuel, based in the Netherlands, were collaborating to make aviation biofuel from the Solaris plant, which was developed and patented by Sunchem Holding, a research and development company based in Italy.

If the test farming in Limpopo is successful, the project will be expanded in South Africa and potentially to other countries.

In coming years, emerging technologies are expected to increase aviation biofuel production from the plant’s leaves and stems.

Sustainable aviation biofuels made from Solaris plants can reduce lifecycle carbon emissions by 50% to 75%, ensuring it meets the sustainability threshold set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB)

Test flights

Airlines have conducted more than 1600 passenger flights using aviation biofuel since the fuel was approved for commercial use in 2011.

  • Boeing is an industry leader in global efforts to develop and commercialise sustainable aviation biofuels.
  • Project Solaris began in 2012 with two hectares of crop, rising to 11 hectares in 2013, before expanding to the current 50 hectares.
  • The partners aim to expand the project to 30,000 hectares by 2020, leading to the production of 140,000 tons of jet fuel, the creation of 50,000 direct jobs and a reduction of 267 kt of CO2 emissions.
  • They envisage 250 000 hectares by 2025, according to SkyNRG chief technology officer Maarten van Dijk.

SAinfo reporter and Boeing
Read more here