Alcohol School focuses on feedstock

By Lisa Gibson | September 10, 2019

Jaime Finguerut, of the Sugarcane Technology Institute in Brazil, showed a Powerpoint slide titled, “EMERGENCY!” as he explained to his audience that the climate crisis is the largest global demand driver for ethanol. Finguerut kicked off the second day of Lallemand Biofuels & Distilled Spirits’ Alcohol School, held Sept. 9-13 in Montreal, Quebec.

In Brazil, the world’s second-largest producer of ethanol, 43 percent of gasoline is replaced with ethanol, compared to the U.S.’s standard 10 percent, he said. Finguerut told his audience of about 100 people that 80 percent of Brazil’s vehicle fleet is flex fuel, even the imports. “It’s a very cheap conversion to make a car flexible,” Finguerut says. The cost includes about $200 in electronics and replacement of most of the plastics.

The sugarcane ethanol production process is refined and incredibly efficient, Finguerut said. Carbon dioxide from Brazil’s process is put back into the soil, he said, and the leaves are no longer burned, but are recycled back into production.

The feedstock procurement phase is quick and complex, Finguerut said, as sugarcane begins to deteriorate in a couple hours, causing bacterial infection. During the process, most of the water comes from the evaporation phase, and fermentation is just eight hours. That results in low productivity because yeast has to be alive in order to recycle it, he said.

John Duff, of National Sorghum Producers, followed Finguerut and talked about sorghum as a feedstock. Sorghum is ideal because it’s drought tolerant, he explained. The U.S. is in medium to high drought stress, according to a World Resources Institute graphic Duff showed.

“We’re a very small industry,” Duff said of sorghum ethanol. He said 2 percent of ethanol in the U.S. is sorghum, while 98 percent is corn. “It’s tiny, but it’s exceedingly important in some areas.” Those sorghum ethanol plants are in Texas and Kansas, because of sorghum’s water, drought and heat tolerance. “The ethanol plants have seen a great fit there. … It’s a big part of their growth strategy.”

He discussed carbon intensity, which comes mainly from farming activities and nitrogen fertilizer applications. Reducing those emissions won’t be easy, but carbon sequestration is a large opportunity. “We sequester more carbon than people realize in agriculture,” he said. “We’re doing a great job in agriculture of sequestering carbon and we are not being compensated for that.”

Corn ethanol has a carbon intensity of about 60 to 75 percent. But accountability of sequestration would result in 19 grams for corn ethanol, and sugarcane could have a negative carbon score, he said. “There is a lot of gain to be made with demonstrating that.” It’s important to gather the science to demonstrate carbon scores with sequestration, and “employ an army” to tell the story to get agriculture the credit it deserves for its soil carbon sequestration, Duff said.

“I cannot emphasize enough the need for you to be involved,” Duff said.