|GraalBio will use the Chemtex PROESA cellulosic ethanol process. Source: Chemtex. Click to enlarge.|
GraalBio, a biotechnology company of the Graal Group, is planning to build a commercial plant for the production of cellulosic ethanol in Brazil. The company will also install an agricultural station to develop new cane varieties with high fiber content; build a pilot plant to develop new biochemical pathways; and establish a research center to develop genetically modified organisms, which will be used in the production of biochemicals and biofuels.
With a total investment of R$300 million (US$145 million), the plant will have a nominal production capacity of 82 million liters (~22 million gallons US) of ethanol. This first Brazilian cellulosic ethanol plant will be constructed in Alagoas and will initially run using sugarcane bagasse and straw as feedstock, which will be eventually replaced by energy cane.
GraalBio’s commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant will be the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.
The cellulosic plant will work in cooperation with first generation mills located in the state—i.e., an associative business model as it complements the first-generation ethanol industry, presenting significant synergies to both sides.
Sugarcane bagasse and straw offer the potential of expanding domestic ethanol production by 35% compared to current installed capacities, presenting a potential solution to the annual ethanol deficit of 1 billion liters (264 million gallons US), Graal Bio said. This will be achieved without additional investments in land, and there will be no competition with food production.
The development of energy cane is intended to expand the potential for the development of biochemicals in Brazil. This cane will be developed by crossing ancestral varieties of sugarcane with selected types of grasses, resulting in a hybrid that is highly productive and has low contents of sugar and high amounts of fibers per hectare. The combination of these factors, according to the company’s technical team, should result in the most competitive biomass in the world.
By the end of the year, the experimental site in Alagoas will produce 100,000 (hundred thousand) seedlings by crossing different germplasm lines and will carry out continuous improvements until the achievement of the expected productivity target of 100 tons of dry mass per hectare.
To anticipate the construction of the first cellulosic ethanol plant in Brazil, GraalBio started a collaboration with the companies BetaRenewables and Chemtex, subsidiaries of the Italian group Mossi & Ghisolfi.
Chemtex’ PROESA technology is used in the pre-treatment and conversion of biomass. PROESA combines steam-explosion, enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation, is acid- and alkali-free and has minimal byproducts. The parameters are adjustable, providing flexibility in the desired output of C5 sugars, C6s and lignin to be used in the production of ethanol or chemicals. With this technology, it is possible to convert several types of raw materials into a variety of biochemicals and biofuels.
At the Alagoas plant, Novozymes will provide the GraalBio plant in Alagoas with its most advanced generation of enzymes and DSM will supply genetically modified yeasts that will ferment the second-generation ethanol.
BetaRenewables has already announced the construction of a similar-sized biorefinery with a productive capacity of 70 million liters (18.5 million gallons US) of ethanol per year, using the same PROESA technology. This biorefinery will be located in Crescentino, Italy and is planned to start operating in the second half of 2012.
The agreement entered into with BetaRenewables, a joint venture between Chemtex and TPGBiotech, considers the co-development of the technology in Brazil.
The critical equipment to be installed in the Northeast Brazil (Alagoas) plant, which will employ the PROESA technology, has already been ordered. The construction of the plant will begin in July of 2012 and the production in the last quarter of 2013.
Pilot plant in Campinas. GraalBio will also build a pilot plant in the city of Campinas in 2012. This plant will use the PROESA technology for the development of new biochemical pathways. It will have three independent lines: one focused on improving the cellulosic ethanol technology, and the other two focusing on the development of biochemical pathways, giving priority to chemicals currently imported by Brazil.
GraalBio says that the construction of the pilot plant will allow it to play an active role as a co-developer of cellulosic technologies and will constitute an important platform to attract world-class partners. GraalBio’s Research Center will be built in 2012 at Unicamp in a collaboration with the same university. The technologies developed at the Center will focus on the genetic modification of Brazilian yeasts, which are considered the most robust and efficient in the world. These yeasts will be capable of quickly processing raw cellulosic material, with high yield.
By 2017, GraalBio has also announced its commitment to build five more plants for the production of biochemicals. The locations of these new plants have not been disclosed.