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  Ethanol Fuel  

A key aspect for the development of the ethanol industry in Brazil was the investment in agricultural research and development by both the public and private sector. The work of EMBRAPA, the state-owned company in charge for applied research on agriculture, together with research developed by state institutes and universities, especially in the State of São Paulo, have allowed Brazil to become a major innovator in the fields of biotechnology and agronomic practices, resulting in the most efficient agricultural technology for sugarcane cultivation in the world.

 Efforts have been concentrated in increasing the efficiency of inputs and processes to optimize output per hectare of feedstock, and the result has been a threefold increase of sugarcane yields in 29 years, as Brazilian average ethanol yields went from 2,024 liters per ha in 1975 to 5,917 liters per ha in 2004; allowing the efficiency of ethanol production to grow at a rate of 3.77% per year. 

 
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Brazilian biotechnologies include the development of sugarcane varieties that have a larger sugar or energy content, one of the main drivers for high yields of ethanol per unit of planted area. The increase of the index total recoverable sugar (TRS) from sugarcane has been very significant, 1.5% per year in the period 1977 to 2004, resulting in an increase from 95 to 140 kg/ha. Innovations in the industrial process have allowed an increase in sugar extraction in the period 1977 to 2003. The average annual improvement was 0.3%; some mills have already reached extraction efficiencies of 98%.

Biotechnology research and genetic improvement have led to the development of strains which are more resistant to disease, bacteria, and pests, and also have the capacity to respond to different environments, thus allowing the expansion of sugarcane cultivation to areas previously considered inadequate for such cultures. By 2008 more than 500 sugarcane varieties are cultivated in Brazil, and 51 of them were released just during the last ten years.

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Evolution of the ethanol productivity per hectare of sugarcane planted in Brazil between 1975 and 2004. Source: Goldenberg (2008).

  Four research programs, two private and two public, are devoted to further genetic improvement. Since the mid nineties, Brazilian biotechnology laboratories have developed transgenic varieties, still none commercialized. Identification of 40,000 cane genes was completed in 2003 and there are a couple dozen research groups working on the functional genome, still on the experimental phase, but commercial results are expected within five years.

Four research programs, two private and two public, are devoted to further genetic improvement. Since the mid nineties, Brazilian biotechnology laboratories have developed transgenic varieties, still none commercialized. Identification of 40,000 cane genes was completed in 2003 and there are a couple dozen research groups working on the functional genome, still on the experimental phase, but commercial results are expected within five years.

Also, there is ongoing research regarding sugarcane biological nitrogen fixation, with the most promising plant varieties showing yields three times the national average in soils of very low fertility, thus avoiding nitrogenous fertilization.

There is also research for the development of second-generation or cellulosic ethanol. In São Paulo state an increase of 12% in sugar cane yield and 6.4% in sugar content is expected over the next decade. This advance combined with an expected 6.2% improvement in fermentation efficiency and 2% in sugar extraction, may increase ethanol yields by 29%, raising average ethanol productivity to 9,000 liters/ha. Approximately US$50 million has recently been allocated for research and projects focused on advancing the abstention of ethanol from sugarcane in São Paulo state.

 

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Typical Ethanol distillery and dehydration facility.

Production process

Sucrose extracted from sugarcane accounts for little more than 30% of the chemical energy stored in the mature plant; 35% is in the leaves and stem tips, which are left in the fields during harvest, and 35% are in the fibrous material left over from pressing. Most of the industrial processing of sugarcane in Brazil is done through a very integrated production chain, allowing sugar production, industrial ethanol processing, and electricity generation from byproducts. The typical steps for large scale production of sugar and ethanol include milling, electricity generation, fermentation, distillation of ethanol, and dehydration.

 
       
 
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History

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Production

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Production process

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Agricultural Technology

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  Milling & Refining
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Overall Energy Use

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  Prices and effect on oil consumption
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Comparison with the United States

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Environmental & Social Impacts

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  Concerns