GranBio begins producing cellulosic ethanol in Brazil; very low carbon intensity of 6.98 gCO2e/MJ for California LCFS
GranBio, a 100% Brazilian industrial biotech company, has begun production at the first commercial-scale plant for second-generation (cellulosic) ethanol in the Southern Hemisphere. The Bioflex 1 unit, built in São Miguel dos Campos, Alagoas, has an initial production capacity of 82 million liters (21.6 million gallons US) of ethanol per year with sugarcane straw and bagasse residues as the feedstocks.
GranBio’s facility uses the PROESA pre-treatment technology from the Italian company BetaRenewables (a company in the M&G Group); enzymes from Novozymes in Denmark; and yeast from DSM in Holland.
Once bales of feedstock have been delivered to the BioFlex plant, the feedstock undergoes pre-treatment and enzymatic hydrolysis for conversion of cellulose and hemi-cellulose components of the sugarcane straw to C5 and C6 sugars. The C5 and C6 sugars produced by pre-treatment and enzymatic conversion are then fermented into ethanol using yeast. The fermented beer is then distilled to produce near pure ethanol at the top of the column, and vinasse at the distillation bottoms.
GranBio says that its cellulosic ethanol has a carbon intensity (CI) of 7.55 gCO2/MJ. The company recently applied for a Method 2B LCFS (California Low Carbon Fuel Standard) pathway, with a CI of 6.98 gCO2e/MJ (although only based on using sugarcane straw as the feedstock).
The calculation takes into account factors starting with the harvest of the raw material, through inputs and energy consumption, transportation and distribution through a port in California. ARB staff has recommended the certification of the GranBio pathway for the LCFS at that CI (subject, as always, to the operating conditions set forth in the application).
In pursuing the project, GranBio, which is controlled by GranInvestimentos S.A., invested US$190 million to build the plant and US$75 million on the steam and electricity co-generation system, the latter investment along with the Carlos Lyra Group’s Caeté facility.
Construction was completed in 20 months, quick as compared to any other undertaking of its size, and was managed by GranEnergia, company also controlled by GranInvestimentos S.A.
The 2G ethanol makes it possible to increase Brazilian production capacity per acre by 50% through the use of agricultural waste—straw and bagasse—without expanding the cane fields. GranBio developed a system to harvest, store and process 400,000 metric tons of straw per year for Bioflex 1.
GranBio and Caeté, from the group Carlos Lyra, created a partnership for the integrated production of steam and electricity. Installed next to Bioflex 1, the co-generation system is fed by sugarcane bagasse and lignin—a byproduct of producing second-generation ethanol. This marks the first time lignin is being used to this purpose in Brazil in the sugar-based alcohol industry. The companies’ combined investment was US$75 million.
The boiler of the cogeneration system will remain in operation for eleven months of the year, or eight thousand hours, in the harvest and inter-harvest period at the Caeté plant. As such, beyond meeting the needs of the two plants, the boiler will generate excess electricity on order of 135,000 MWh/year—enough to power a city of 300,000 inhabitants—which will be sold and become a source of revenue for the companies.