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Bioelectric potential of sugarcane is underutilized

One of the reasons that Brazil has one of the cleanest energy matrices (including fuels) and electricity (only sources of electricity generation) in the world is the sugarcane plantations. From the creation of the National Alcohol Program (Proálcool) in the 1970s to the current moment in which second generation ethanol and new products such as biogas are being worked on, the sugar and ethanol sector has gained space in the economy. Today it represents about 45% of the total fuel consumed in Brazil and bioelectricity, made from biomass from sugarcane milling (bagasse and straw), is one of the five main sources of electricity, with little more than 12 GW of installed capacity. There is potential for much more.

Each ton of crushed sugarcane in the manufacture of sugar and ethanol generates, on average, 250 kg of bagasse and 200 kg of straw and tips, which is used to produce clean electricity. In the accounts of Zilmar Souza, bioelectricity manager at the Sugarcane and Bioenergy Industry Union (Unica), for the coming years, according to the National Electric Energy Agency (Aneel), the biomass source should add 248 MW and 591 MW to the Brazilian electricity matrix in 2023 and 2024, representing, respectively, 2% and 7% of the planned expansion for the matrix, reducing the representativeness of the source in the annual expansion of the Brazilian electricity matrix.

According to data from the Energy Research Company (EPE), Brazil uses less than 15% of the technical potential for generating bioelectricity and sugar-energy biogas for the grid. "To reduce this gap between the effective generation of bioelectricity and its potential, it is important that we establish a stimulating and long-term sectoral policy for bioelectricity and biogas", says Souza.

Despite the untapped potential, electricity is already driving many businesses on several fronts, with many groups preparing for the potential opening of the free electricity market and the decarbonization of vehicle fleets. This scenario is stimulated by the context: the RenovaBio program, operational since 2020, which requires fuel distributors to acquire C-Bios to offset emissions related to fuel sales. The RenovaBio mechanism makes more efficient plants able to generate more C-Bios, which encourages producers to invest in maximizing their production and efficiency, which can stimulate investments in bioelectricity and second-generation ethanol.

One of the main investment vectors is biogas, a by-product of ethanol production. The organic material that remains from the cane, which can be vinasse or filter cake, is subject to the action of bacteria, responsible for the generation of biogas. The sugar-energy sector corresponds to about 50% of the potential of biogas that can be produced in Brazil, estimated at 57.6 million m3/day.

New production technologies, using residues such as vinasse and filter cake, promise to bring self-sufficiency to ethanol plants. With an investment of approximately R$ 300 million, Raízen invests in its second biogas plant unit, the first dedicated to the production of renewable natural gas.Ethanol production from biomass (bagasse), which also generates vinasse as waste, will be destined for the biomethane plant. The entire production of the new plant was sold to Yara Brasil Fertilizantes and Volkswagen do Brasil, under long-term contracts. Lemon Energia, which bridges the gap between electricity generators and small and medium-sized consumer companies that spend around R$500 a month on energy in a business model similar to a subscription club, closed in June its first partnership in the area of gas. It made an agreement with Tereos to supply electricity generated from vinasse biogas, a residue from ethanol production, to small and medium-sized companies in the interior of São Paulo. The energy comes from the production of Tereos' pilot biogas plant, located at its Cruz Alta industrial unit in Olímpia (northwest of the State of São Paulo).

"The Olímpia plant produces 1 MW or the equivalent of the consumption of about 85 small businesses, with the potential to double the volume in the medium term", says Rafael Vignoli, founding partner of Lemon. Most of the customers are linked to the food sector. "We have bars, restaurants, bakeries, convenience stores, among others. As Ambev is one of our great partners, many are points of sale that receive its products. beverage manufacturer by 2025", highlights Vignoli.



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