Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Brasil Biofuel

Here at BioTek we have been interested in biofuel research for some time. Our interests were largely US-centric and focused on both second and third generation biofuel production since generating ethanol from foodstuffs like corn while widely done in the US, are simply non-sustainable.  We not only need the food, but the conversion of corn starches to ethanol is relatively inefficient (it requires petroleum).  In most cases, cars in the US run on petroleum with some augmentation of ethanol from corn – about 10%.

So I was amazed to find cars in Brazil running on 100% ethanol.  Brazil’s decades-old ethanol fuel program is based on the most efficient sugarcane cultivation in the world. Sugarcane-based ethanol has an energy balance that is 7 times greater than that of corn-based ethanol.  There are no longer any cars in Brazil running on 100% gasoline.  Instead, there are flexible-fuel vehicles that can run on 100% gasoline, 100% ethanol or any blend of gasoline/ethanol. But beware of switching fuels! There is a sensor in Brazilian cars for which fuel is being used. If fuel is switched when the tank is near empty, then the vehicle must run for about 10 km otherwise the sensor gets confused and will require replacement as the car won't start! Ethanol is cheaper than gasoline, provides more power but gets about 35% less mileage.

Ethanol prices
Ethanol is cheap in Brazil!

Together, Brazil and the US lead the world in the industrial production of ethanol fuel, accounting together for almost 90% percent of the world's production. Brazil is considered to have the world's first sustainable biofuels economy based on first generation methods, largely due to its enormous amount of highly arable land available.  Sugarcane grows like weeds in Brazil; in the US, weeds grow like weeds so we must be content to develop second and third generation biofuel production methods...

 Sugarcane stretches to the horizon around Ribeirao Preto

By: BioTek Instruments, Peter Banks Ph.D., Scientific Director

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