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Laboratory in Campinas is going to invest in the bottlenecks in cellulosic ethanol research.

EDUARDO CESARCTBE laboratory in Campinas: second wind for the bioenergy research systemEDUARDO CESAR

On January 22 in Campinas (SP), the facilities of the National Bioethanol Science and Technology Laboratory (CTBE) were opened. This is a research center directed at the development of second-generation ethanol, which is produced from cellulose. The idea for the laboratory was conceived in 2007 and the federal government has already invested R$ 69 million in it. Some of the current research being carried out there is being supported by FAPESP, to the tune of R$ 2 million, according to Marco Aurélio Pinheiro Lima, director of the CTBE. In addition to developing research projects related to all stages in the production of ethanol, the center would like to offer a platform that can be used by researchers from all over Brazil, and Latin America, in a similar mold to that offered by use of the facilities of the National Synchrotron Light Laboratory (LNLS). The LNLS, the CTBE and the National Laboratory for Biosciences (LNBio) share the same campus in Campinas and are coordinated by a body that has just been created by the federal government, the National Research Center in Energy and Materials (CNPEM).

According to director Marco Aurélio Lima, the idea of creating the laboratory arose from a study that raised the challenges faced in producing ethanol in Brazil over the next 15 years. One of the targets was to decide what the country would need to do to produce ethanol that would be capable of substituting 10% of all the gasoline consumed on the planet by 2025. “Many of the bottlenecks that were identified demand investments in science to resolve them”, says Lima. The center signed cooperation agreements with Imperial College, in London, and Lund University from Sweden, with which it will develop joint research projects. An agreement was also signed with Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária (Embrapa – [the Brazilian Agriculture and Livestock Farming Research Company]) to carry out field studies in sustainability in sugarcane growing.

Present at the inauguration, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva emphasized the importance of the CTBE to Brazil for making a new technological leap. “I hope that this laboratory can use all its potential so that we can transform ethanol into the most widely used fuel in the world”, he said. Lula regretted the increase in the price of fuel ethanol and criticized those mill owners that have cut back alcohol production to make more sugar. “If we give the world the idea that we’re not up to supplying even our own domestic market we’re not going to be taking our alcohol to sell to the whole world”, he stated.

For São Paulo state governor, José Serra, the center will be a place that favors collaboration between the federal and state governments. “For us the creation of the CTBE is welcome news and adds to the research effort being carried out in the state in the bioenergy field”, Serra said. “In practice, integration already exists. All three directors of the center are researchers from São Paulo state universities. One is a researcher at USP and the other two are from Unicamp”, he said. Serra mentioned the setting up of the Paulista Bioenergy Research Center at the end of 2009, which is going to bring together researchers from the three universities and hire new researchers in cutting edge themes within the scope of the FAPESP Research Program in Bioenergy (Bioen).

According to the scientific director of the CTBE, Marcos Buckeridge, the extent of the work of the new center coincides with that of Bioen, which should contribute to the laboratory and also benefit from its infrastructure. “A Brazilian bioenergy system is being formed that will bring together the work of an elite group of specialists spread throughout the country”, announced Buckeridge, who also directs the National Institute for Bioethanol Science and Technology and is a member of the coordinating body of Bioen.