Plan is set to build Brazil's first cellulosic ethanol plant

By Kris Bevill | May 23, 2012

Brazil-based GraalBio Investimentos S.A. will begin building Brazil’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant this summer in Alagaos, Brazil, a small coastal state in the northeast region of the country. Beta Renewables, a $350 million joint venture between Italian chemical company Mossi & Ghisolfi Group’s Chemtex division and private investment firm TPG, has agreed to license its trademarked Proesa pretreatment process technology to GraalBio for the 22 MMgy plant, which will allow GraalBio to convert locally sourced sugarcane straw and bagasse into ethanol and lignin.

Novozymes will supply enzymes for the enzymatic hydrolysis portion of the conversion process and yeasts licensed from DSM will be used for fermentation, according to GraalBio. The cellulosic plant will be located near an existing sugarcane mill, enabling the two facilities to share resources. Lignin produced as a byproduct at the cellulosic ethanol plant will be used to power the facility. The Brazilian Development Bank, BNDES, will finance the project, which is expected to begin operations in late 2013.

“We applaud GraalBio’s vision in choosing the Proesa process to produce second-generation bioethanol,” Beta Renewables CEO Guido Ghisolfi said in a statement. “We believe that Proesa technology will let producers see superior returns on their investments, while enabling more sustainable production of advanced biofuels and bio-based chemicals.”

GraalBio and Beta Renewables began collaborating last fall to develop the Brazilian project. According to GraalBio, it believes the Proesa process is the first cellulosic pretreatment method to become economically viable. Beta Renewables is currently nearing completion of the world’s largest cellulosic ethanol plant to date—a facility in Crescentino, Italy, which will have the capability to produce up to 20 MMgy of cellulosic ethanol from a variety of feedstocks. That plant is expected to begin producing ethanol later this year at a cash cost of about $1.50 per gallon. The total project cost for the Crescentino plant is about $200 million, with $50 million of that being devoted to the construction of boilers to convert lignin to about 15 megawatts of power. Not considering the boiler costs, the plant’s total cost to produce ethanol will be about $5 per gallon of annual production capacity. GraalBio did not immediately release the estimated cost of its project in Brazil.