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GraalBio Cellulosic Ethanol Production Project, Alagoas, Brazil




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GraalBio Cellulosic Ethanol Production Project, Alagoas

Brazilian biotechnology company GraalBio is planning to construct a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production plant in Alagoas, Brazil. The facility will be the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, using cellulosic feedstock for second-generation production of ethanol.

The cellulosic ethanol plant will be built adjacent to an already operational first-generation ethanol biorefinery that uses sugarcane as a raw material.

Co-existence of the first and second generation mills will allow synergy and improve efficiency of both the plants. Both the projects will take advantage of the already available utilities and infrastructure. Procurement of all the critical equipment to be installed at the new facility has been completed.

The plant will have a capacity to produce about 82 million litres of ethanol per annum and is planned for start-up in 2013.

Cellulosic ethanol production project details

"Brazil has resources and favourable environmental conditions for biomass production."

The BRL300m ($147m) cellulosic ethanol project includes construction of a pilot plant, a research centre and an agricultural station at the site. The agricultural station will enable the company to develop new varieties of fibre rich sugarcane.

The pilot scale facility is planned to be built in the city of Campinas in 2012. It will use PROESA technology for producing biochemicals. It will have three production lines. Two lines will be dedicated for the development of new biochemical pathways and the third will focus on improving the cellulosic technology.

The new research centre is scheduled to be built in collaboration with the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp). It will focus on developing new genetically modified yeasts capable of producing high yields of biofuels and biochemicals in less processing time.

Feedstock used at GraalBio's plant

The ethanol plant will initially use straw and sugarcane bagasse as feedstock, which will be later replaced with Energy Cane. Energy Cane is a biomass which will be developed using hybrids of selected grasses and sugarcane plants.

The resultant biomass will be rich in fibre and comprise low amounts of sugar per hectare value. It will also be highly productive for biochemicals in Brazil.

The Alagoas experimental site will focus on developing a productivity target of 100t of dry mass per hectare. It will research on about 100,000 seedlings by crossing various varieties of germplasm lines.

PROESA process technology

The PROESA technology was developed by Chemtex. The process requires steam, yeasts and enzymes to produce biofuels and biochemicals. The physical pre-treatment of the feedstock biomass uses steam explosion to break the plant structures.

"The advent of second generation technologies in the country is expected to improve the ethanol productivity by about 35%."

Enzymes are introduced for enzymatic hydrolysis that breaks down the cellulosic fibres into simple sugar molecules. It then undergoes a fermentation process to turn sugars into ethanol. The process has very low levels of contaminants, sugar degradation and acetic acid concentrations.

Advantages of the PROESA technology include flexibility of using a variety of biomasses, independence from chemicals, utilising existing plant infrastructure and equipment, high rates of hemicellulose and cellulose recovery, low energy consumption, quick biomass liquefaction rate and ease of controlling temperature and pH levels.

Contractors for the Alagoas-based project

GraalBio has collaborated with Chemtex and BetaRenewables, subsidiaries of the Italian PET producer Mossi & Ghisolfi (M&G), for the Brazilian project.

BetaRenewables is constructing a 50 million L/y ethanol biorefinery in Crescentino, Italy, which uses the PROESA technology. Novozymes will supply the enzymes required for the cellulosic ethanol processing. The genetically modified yeasts for fermentation will be supplied by DSM.

Marketing commentary for Brazilian biomass production


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Brazil has resources and favourable environmental conditions for biomass production. It has been one of the largest producers of first generation ethanol, thanks to the abundant availability of sugarcane. The availability of these resources is expected to provide a significant advantage in the biotechnology and genetics industry.

The advent of second generation technologies in the country is expected to improve the ethanol productivity by about 35%. This, in turn, is expected to cope with the ethanol shortage of about one billion litres a year. Using straw and bagasse will also not compete with the food production.

GraalBio is planning to build five cellulosic ethanol and biochemical production plants by 2017. The planned biochemicals are expected to have a competitive market in Brazil.


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GraalBio is planning to construct a 82 million L/y cellulosic ethanol production plant in Brazil.
Use of straw and bagasse for ethanol production is expected to boost Brazilian productivity.
Sugarcane is used as feedstock for first generation ethanol production in Brazil.
The project will use PROESA technology for producing cellulosic ethanol.