The European Commission is supporting a Novozymes project converting sugarcane by-products into bioethanol with a 2-year contract that will lead to a cost-effective technology. Sugarcane is already used to make bioethanol in Brazil, but the residue material from the crushed sugarcane, called bagasse, has so far only been used for generating steam for heating or distillation internally in the sugar production.

New research unit in Brazil
In connection with this project, Novozymes is establishing a research unit in Curitiba, Brazil, supported by research colleagues in both the US and Denmark. Novozymes is the technological leader within the development of enzymes for both first- and second-generation bioethanol, and has worked to turn agricultural by-products into bioethanol since 2001. The research effort is the largest in Novozymes’ history, with about 150 employees working towards the conversion of biomass to ethanol on different projects throughout the world. Novozymes’ partner on the project, Brazilian CTC, Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira, is the leading R&D center for sugarcane in the world and has more than 40 years working experience in all aspects of sugarcane production and processing.

Using by-products to get more from less
“This is a huge acknowledgement from the European Commission of our development of cost-effective bioethanol,” says Steen Skjold-Jørgensen, Vice President for Bioethanol R&D. “Novozymes has promised that by 2010 we'll deliver enzymes for the conversion of biomass from agricultural by-products into ethanol for large-scale production. And we're going to keep that promise. We're already well on the way, but with this support from the Commission we'll work towards getting much more from less. With the current sugarcane-based ethanol we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80–90% compared to gasoline. By also utilizing the bagasse by-product, we'll be able to increase the yield per acre by about 50%.”

“We're pleased with the interest and support provided by the European Commission to this project, which will certainly accelerate our goals of converting sugarcane bagasse into ethanol at a competitive cost, says Nilson Boeta, CEO of CTC, Novozymes partner in Brazil. “With the support of 160 sugar-ethanol mills and 20,000 cane growers, the project is aimed at developing an integrated process with the existing plants operating throughout Brazil and leveraging on the huge energy potential already available at these sites.”

Agricultural residues can replace gasoline
At the moment, biofuels are the only real alternative to gasoline if CO2 emissions from the transport sector are to be reduced. The transport sector is responsible for approximately 25% of the planet’s energy-related CO2 emissions today, and this proportion is increasing.

Last year Brazil produced 6 billion gallons (about 23 billion liters) of bioethanol from sugarcane. 1 billion gallons were exported and the remaining 5 billion gallons were used to supply fuel to Brazil’s national transport sector. 90% of new cars in Brazil are flex-fuel cars that can run on fuel mixtures containing up to 100% bioethanol. In this way, more ethanol is used in Brazil than gasoline and Brazil’s current production of bioethanol has made the country independent of imported oil. Every ton of sugarcane results in 0.3 tons of bagasse, and it is this residue that Novozymes will utilize and – together with the sugar component – convert to sustainable fuel.

“Novozymes is the world leader in enzyme technology for the sustainable production of second-generation bioethanol and this is why we're so delighted that the European Commission recognizes the importance of developing technologies to replace oil. We believe that bioethanol is the first step towards a world that is not dependent on its shrinking oil reserves,” says Steen Skjold-Jørgensen.

The bagasse project is being run in collaboration with Novozymes’ researchers in Denmark, the US and Brazil together with a number of external partners besides CTC; Lund University in Sweden; and the Federal University of Paraná in Brazil.