Brazil may become the great generator of energy in a not very distant future. This picture may only become reality, however, if there is heavy investment in research.
This is the mission of Embrapa Energy, a technology center established by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) to coordinate the research that is taking place in the area in the organization’s 20 units spread around Brazil.
According to the head of the head of the Embrapa management and strategy secretariat, Evandro Mantovani, the idea is to discover new techniques to grow oleaginous plants and oil palms considering the production of energy.
"We want to work on the genetic improvement of these cultures to use them exclusively for energy purposes," he explained. What there is, nowadays, is the re-use of the waste of these plants, which are used for other purposes, like the extraction of vegetable oil.
Brazil has been producing biodiesel from castor seeds, for example, since the 1980’s. But nothing expressive. Apart from biodiesel, Embrapa Energy has another three focuses: energy forests – in other words, ways of extracting energy from firewood, charcoal, etc; ethanol, which may be made not only from sugarcane but also from cassava and maize; and agro-industrial residue.
"Brazil is a world leader in the production of alcohol. If we start this research now, with effort, we have an opportunity of becoming the leader in terms of agro-energy," stated Mantovani. "We are at an advantage as we have everything: sun, earth, water and technology."
According to him, foreign investors are already eyeing the local production and are showing interest not only in investing but also in producing in the country. "The world is quickly learning how to do this," recalled the department head at Embrapa.
Not to waste time, at the end of April the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply announced investment of 10 million reais (US$ 4.9 million) in Embrapa Energy, being half the total invested this year and the other half next year. The agro-energy research center is part of a greater plan that involves another three ministries: Science and Technology, Mines and Energy, and Development, Industry and Foreign Trade.
The project, called National Agro-energy Project, was scheduled for the period from 2006 to 2011. One of the targets is to replace 2% of the diesel oil used in the country for biodiesel – which would correspond to 800 million less liters of diesel.
The objective is for this percentage to rise to 5% by 2013. Another possibility forecasted by Embrapa Energy is the increase of the production of ethanol. Currently, 90 liters of the product are produced per ton of sugarcane. If the bagasse and leaves were used, the current production could even be doubled.
More than discovering new techniques to lead other countries, Brazil needs to invest in production to be ready for the global energy demand when oil starts running out once and for all.
"Today, if Japan decided to mix a small percentage of alcohol into their petrol and had to import from Brazil, we would not be able to supply this demand. It is better to be prepared in advance," warned Evandro Mantovani.
Anba – www.anba.com.br