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Cellulose ethanol

Foundation and company earmark R$ 100 million for the study of industrial processes

eduardo cesarFrom FAPESP Agency

FAPESP and Dedini Indústria de Base signed an agreement to finance technological research projects geared toward industrial processes for the manufacturing of sugarcane ethanol. With a five-year term, the agreement’s funding amounts to R$ 100 million, R$ 50 million of which will be disbursed by FAPESP, whereas the other R$ 50 million will come from the company, which is headquartered in the city of Piracicaba, in the São Paulo inner state area. The agreement will provide support for cooperative projects to be established between Dedini researchers and research institutions and universities, whether public or private, in the state of São Paulo.

The signing of the agreement, which was attended by governor José Serra and vice-governor Alberto Goldman, took place on the first day of the 5th International Symposium and Technology Show of the Sugar and Alcohol Agroindustry (Simtec).

It is expected that the total use of sugarcane coupled with the know-how and the possibility of large scale application in innovative processing techniques will help Brazil to remain among the chief producers and exporters of fuel alcohol. “São Paulo is the second largest sugar and alcohol producer in the world – the first one is Brazil. It is a very important sector. In 2006, sugarcane products accounted for 14.4% of the country’s energy supply, a percentage that is on par with the hydroelectric energy supply. This is a fantastic figure”, highlighted Serra.

FAPESP president Carlos Vogt recalled that since the 90’s the Foundation has given preferential treatment to the development of technological research linked to business activity. “The partnering arrangement with Dedini was a natural choice, given that it is one of the world’s main companies in the field of industrial technology for the production of ethanol and that it engages in substantial in-house R&D efforts”, he states.

This is the greatest partnership that FAPESP has ever entered into with a privately-owned firm. “It’s about research focused on application and, in such cases, FAPESP always tries to establish an association with companies that are better able to identify market opportunities than universities or research institutions”, said Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, the Foundation’s scientific director. With the same objective, the Foundation has signed agreements with Oxiteno, Telefônica, Microsoft and Padtec.

According to Brito Cruz, global warming has made it critical to invest in ethanol production technologies. “Until two years ago, producing ethanol in large quantities was a Brazilian issue. Now that developed countries have become interested in these technologies, we have competitors that oblige us to incorporate far more advanced science.”

Call for proposals
The first call for proposals under the scope of the agreement should be released in August. The funds will only go to the proposals that FAPESP selects, with the participation of the Cooperation Management Committee, and will be disbursed in line with the timetable of each selected and approved proposal.

According to José Luiz Olivério, vice-president of Dedini, the call will target research projects focusing on industrial technology areas for the production of ethanol. “R$ 20 million a year will be invested during five years. We believe that this will be sufficient for many projects in these areas. The values  allocated to each of them will depend on their nature”, said Olivério.

It is expected that projects of the following types will be funded: improvements in technologies used in the company’s acid hydrolysis demonstration plant, or discovery and development of new technologies; energy production from subproducts of the production of ethanol; ways to reduce the consumption of energy during the industrial process; and ways to increase the efficiency of the distillation and fermentation processes.

According to Olivério, one of the focal points will be the development of ethanol from cellulose. “Sugarcane is one third sucrose and two thirds cellulose. We only make ethanol from sucrose. When we develop the technology for making it from cellulose, there will be a major impact on productivity”, he said.

It is also expected that the research projects will encourage the dissemination of knowledge and the implementation of innovative scientific or technological research projects whose results have potential for application in the market.

The agreement with FAPESP establishes that the intellectual property rights that may be generated as a result of the partnering arrangement or connected with the projects analyzed and selected will be settled according to terms that will be established between Dedini and the institutions of the proposing researchers; the Foundation may or may not hold a stake in these rights.

According to Olivério, the agreement will enable researchers from universities and companies to work in cooperation. “The basis is for the work to be carried out within universities with the participation of the company’s research department. However, if there are projects that call for a prototype to be built, the university researchers will probably come to the plant”, he states.
Established 85 years ago, Dedini is one of the chief suppliers of capital goods for sugar mills and alcohol distilleries. The company operates in several industrial segments, such as pulp and paper, energy, fertilizers, hydroelectric power stations, mining, metallurgy, oil, chemistry, steel milling, effluent treatment and foods.

According to Olivério, the company currently invests 3% of its revenue in R&D. “One of the lines of research covered by the scope of the agreement is the improvement in technology for the Dedini Fast Hydrolysis (DHR) system, developed in order to increase the production of energy while also reducing its consumption and obtaining greater process yield and efficiency”, he said.
Patented in Brazil, the USA, the EU and several other countries in all continents, DHR is a process that in just a few minutes transforms through acid hydrolysis the sugarcane bagasse into fermentable material that can be used to produce alcohol. “After ethanol from sugarcane juice and from cellulose, we will be looking for the so-called third generation ethanol: the use of gasified biomass and the use of synthesis reactions to produce liquid fuels”, he stated.

According to Olivério, to build and install a Process Development Unit on a larger scale, Dedini had the support of FAPESP’s Technological Innovation Partnering Research program (Pite – Pesquisa em Parceria para Inovação Tecnológica). The DHR unit has been implemented at the São Luiz mill, in the town of Pirassununga, in the São Paulo inner state area; it enables higher alcohol production extracted from the same, unchanged, sugarcane plantation area.

During the signing of the agreement with Dedini, FAPESP released the publication Brasil, líder mundial em conhecimento e tecnologia de cana e etanol (Brazil, world leader in sugarcane and ethanol knowledge and technology), prepared by the Foundation’s Communication Office. The document carries information about research projects that regard sugarcane, ethanol and other industrial products that the Foundation has provided support for over the last ten years, besides articles on these themes that have been published in Pesquisa FAPESP magazine from November 2000 to February 2007.