Backing Brazil's Bagasse

Potential profits are bringing in investments from around the world.
By Kris Bevill | November 15, 2010
The sheer amount of sugarcane bagasse available in Brazil could be enough of an incentive to inspire global collaboration within Brazil's ethanol sector. Petrobras, the country's largest energy corporation, is at the center of collaborative efforts, signing deals recently with Wyoming's KL Energy Corp. and global enzyme manufacturer Novozymes A/S. Through the partnership with Petrobras, Novozymes will continue its ongoing efforts to develop enzymes capable of breaking down the tough lignin in bagasse. Meanwhile, KL Energy will focus on commercializing bagasse-to-ethanol production technology at its demonstration facility in Upton, Wyo. Petrobras will integrate KLE's technology at one of its sugarcane mills before commercializing it at other locations.

Petrobras is just one of several firms competing to become the first to commercialize this technology. Royal Dutch Shell plc is backing Codexis' efforts to develop a method to convert sugarcane bagasse to ethanol, along with Iogen Energy Corp., and recently signed agreements with Cosan S.A. to jointly commercialize bagasse-to-ethanol.

The potential economic benefit for those who can successfully commercialize bagasse-to-ethanol is enormous. According to several estimates, ethanol from bagasse could increase Brazil's ethanol production by up to 40 percent. The country currently harvests about 600 million tons of sugarcane per year, according to Petrobras, and produces about 7 billion gallons of ethanol.