Brazil: Elephant grass as a biofuel

18.10.2010 By: TRANSFER based on Época Negócios

Brazil is the second producer of biofuels in the world, right after the United States. Ethanol, a biofuel derived from sugarcane, covers about one third of the fuel capacity in the country. In addition, Brazil exports more than four billion litres of ethanol per year, mainly to the United States. Of all European countries the Netherlands is the largest importer of Brazilian ethanol. During a state visit by former Dutch Prime Minister Balkenende to Brazil in March last year, one of the topics discussed has been Sustainable Agriculture.

But recently Brazil introduced a new kind of biofuel, being derived from elephant grass. This elephant grass resembles sugarcane, but grows a lot faster and produces a much higher quantity of biomass. Besides that it grows on earth that’s not rich in nutrients and is not nearly as demanding as other crops like eucalyptus in terms of water and fertilization. The facts: Elephant grass produces 40 tons of biomass per hectare of crop, while sugarcane produces roughly between 15-20 tons, and eucalyptus produces between 10-15 tons in the same area. Although this kind of crop is known in Europe and also in the United States, it has been a Brazilian company to discover the promising niche. Sykué Bioenergya, dedicated to producing energy from biological sources, is investing R$ 140 million (about USD 80 million) in a power plant powered by combusted dry biomass of elephant grass.

Although elephant grass as a biofuel is promising, the use of this cane as a biofuel is still under development. Research is needed to determine other ways of producing energy next to the process of combustion, for example the use of its fibrous residue that remains after the juice is extracted, to produce ethanol. Until now elephant grass is proven effective only in smaller-scale applications, but it’s obvious that this cane cannot be overlooked anymore.

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