A new Horizon 2020 project will foster cooperation between Europe and Brazil in the development of advanced biofuels from sustainable agricultural value chains, based on lignocellulosic biomass. Coordinated by the University of Bologna, Department of Agricultural Sciences, the four-year BECOOL project will be carried out by a consortium of thirteen partners from seven EU countries, including universities, research institutes, industries and SMEs.
The activities of BECOOL will be aligned with those of BioVALUE, a twin project in Brazil, funded by five State Foundations (FAPESP from São Paulo state, FAPEMIG from Minas Gerais state, FAPERJ from Rio de Janeiro state, FACEPE from Pernambuco state, and FAPERGS from Rio Grande do Sul state) and five Industrial Companies (Petrobras, Fibria, Klabin, Boeing, and Embraer), with 12 research institutions and university partners, coordinated by the Brazilian Bioethanol Science and Technology Laboratory (CTBE) of the Brazilian Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM).
Building on existing complementarities in scientific expertise and experience between EU and Brazil in the development of advanced biofuels, the two projects will adopt a synergistic work programme, to develop a series of research and demonstration activities, covering the entire value chain in a balanced way: from innovative biomass production and logistics, to efficient conversion pathways and exploitation.
The cooperation between Europe and Brazil on advanced biofuels will bring mutual benefits and will create synergies at scientific level that will help exploit the full economic potential of advanced biofuel value chains, while creating unique opportunities for both Brazilian and European companies. A lesson learned from existing biofuel value chains, both in Europe and in Brazil, is that sustainable, reliable, and affordable biomass production logistics are often a big conundrum. In the EU, advanced biofuels can be produced from annual and perennial lignocellulosic crops and from crop residues such as cereal straw, which have a large potential in Europe. However, using only crop residues can create problems with logistics and with biomass supply to large industrial plants, due to fluctuations in yields, prices and availability at local level. Land pressure of advanced biofuel plants could be reduced by adopting different and complementary cropping strategies that integrate both food and fuel crops, aimed at increasing the productivity of lignocellulosic biomass as well as improving the logistics of the value chains.
Brazil is speeding up the commercial implementation of advanced biofuel production, currently focused on sugarcane bagasse, with short-term perspectives to diversify the feedstock with eucalyptus, energy cane and sugarcane residues. Using sugarcane bagasse and straw to produce cellulosic ethanol would dramatically increase the total ethanol yield per unit land. It has been estimated, for example, that by transforming only half of the available bagasse and straw into ethanol, the Brazilian ethanol output would increase by at least 50%.
Harmonizing and optimizing the entire value chains by improving both the logistic of biomass and the efficiency of conversion processes would dramatically increase the sustainability and profitability of advanced biofuels. In this context, one of the main objectives of BECOOL and BioVALUE is to demonstrate a realistic approach of integrated and logistically efficient supply systems, based on the use of both crop residues and high-yield lignocellulosic crops. The two projects will set up innovative cropping systems based on annual and perennial lignocellulosic crops, to increase feedstock availability for advanced biofuel plants without competing for land with food crops.
In parallel, the two projects will develop ways to increase the conversion efficiency of biomass to advanced biofuels, by optimizing and integrating thermochemical processes to convert the lignin-rich by-products of advanced biofuel plants, into bio-oil, syngas and additional fuel products. This will represent a major process improvement, for example in second generation ethanol plants, where lignin is a still a low-value by-product, which is utilized only for power generation.
Another project component will develop innovations in the pre-treatment and in the fermentation of lignocellulosic feedstock, to increase the ethanol yield while at the same time improving the chemical-physical characteristics of the lignin rich co-product, for its further upgrading to advanced biofuels.
Finally, the two projects will perform a detailed sustainability assessment of the value chains and an integrated market analysis in order to foster the scientific and commercial exploitation of the results.
Prof. Andrea Monti, BECOOL project coordinator says: "Conventional transport fuels contribute around one fifth of the total emissions worldwide. Advanced lignocellulosic biofuels are a concrete opportunity of mitigating the GHG emissions, while reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. The increasing demand on biofuels is an urgent challenge for EU, in order to comply with economical, political, social and environmental targets. Brazil has been the pioneer in the biofuels, and its ethanol production is projected to increase from about 29 Bln L in 2015 to 36 Bln L in 2025. Therefore, the strengthened cooperation between Europe and Brazil on advanced biofuels could provide mutually beneficial solutions for highly efficient and sustainable value chains, encompassing the whole range of activities from biomass production and diversification to logistics and conversion pathways".
Antonio Bonomi, BioVALUE project coordinator says: "Production of advanced biofuels in a country rich in biomass alternatives is clearly the future for climate change mitigation, enabling Brazil to reach its Nationally Determined Contributions compromised at COP22 in Marrakech. The opportunity to synergistically develop with Europe new biomass and logistic strategies, as well as new conversion technologies, will allow to reach fundamental results in the new world's bioeconomy context".
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