The project highlighted below forecasts the tropicalization and implementation of a biogas plant for the utilization of sugar cane bagasse. Through a technology developed by French company Fertigaz, this project conducted in partnership with CIBiogás intends to benefit the sugar cane industry, by optimizing waste processing through anaerobic digestion and adapting the process to tropical conditions. Learn more about it in our interview with Nicolas Berhorst, an Economist at CIBiogás.

1 - CIBiogás is implementing a project together with French company Fertigaz to tropicalize a biogas plant using sugar cane bagasse. Please, explain to us how Low Carbon Brazil has contributed to the development of this initiative.

Low Carbon Brazil’s greatest contribution has been to facilitate business agreements between Brazil and France, in this case by bringing Fertigaz and CIBiogás together. LCBA has provided a highly favourable environment for joint cooperation between those institutions, and through financial support to that process it has reduced risks for the involved parties, thus making it possible to establish a collaborative process targeting actual results.

2 – Brazil already operates biogas plants using organic waste derivatives. What is new in the technology that is coming from Europe and that will be used to turn sugar cane waste into biogas?

Fertigaz’s differential is that they have developed a customized solution for the sector considering the equipment available in the national market – it increases national content and cuts costs. Fertigaz has experience in this area, it has already implemented 30 biogas plants in Europe, also in the sugar sector.

The technical structure suggested by CIBiogás and Fertigaz does not involve any technological innovation. What is new is the construction of an anaerobic reactor for the sugar and alcohol sector.

3 – Could you explain the specifics of the biogas sector in Brazil and how the proposed technology needs to be adapted to Brazilian conditions?

Differently from Europe, in Brazil biogas has not received any subsidy, which requires greater flexibility and innovation by engineering companies to demonstrate the technical and economic viability of projects. For European companies that means having to tropicalize (adapt) their solutions to the Brazilian reality in order to become more competitive.

Some of the factors that require attention in terms of tropicalization are: weather (temperature and air humidity variations throughout the year), characterization and volume of the substrate, quantity of species of microorganisms, national suppliers, qualified workforce, post-sale and maintenance expenses, availability of spare parts, quality of the electric distribution network, and operational and patrimonial safety measures.

4 – How a biogas plant for the sugar cane industry might contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Does it provide higher efficiency if compared to other technologies available in Brazil? Is there an emission reduction estimate?

In Brazil it is already possible to find highly efficient biodigesters in terms of organic matter decomposition, storage and utilization of the generated methane gas. In that sense, there isn’t any difference between the technique employed in Brazil or in Europe. However, in Europe it is possible to find a much higher number of efficient biodigesters. On the other side, Europe already is much more developed in terms of biogas refining or biomethane production. This procedure enables storing and utilizing CO2, which may further increase the mitigation of Greenhouse Gas (GEE) emission effects. Carbon dioxide can be employed to produce caustic soda, carbonated beverages, foodstuffs in greenhouses, and to control pH in industrial processes. Sugar cane plants account for a large portion of the biogas market and it is a concentrated segment, which provides scale for the business models. And so that may directly contribute in three different ways:
● Use of biomethane to replace diesel used to power companies’ internal fleets. A mid-size plant consumes between 30-70 thousand litres of diesel per day during harvesting;
● Mitigation of CH4 emissions by fermenting the generated waste, whether in storage ponds or on the soil when stillage is applied;
● To replace chemical fertilizers in sugar cane plantations.

For example, one of the plants visited by Fertigaz through CIBiogás in the hinterland of the State of Sao Paulo has the capacity to crush 14,000 tons of sugar cane per day, and produces in average 620 thousand litres of ethanol per day. On a normal operation day, that plant produces approximately 7 million litres of stillage and 600 tons of filter cake.

When 100% of those two by-products go through biodigestion before returning to the soil, the mitigation of GEE emissions may amount to 117 tCO2eq per day. For comparison purposes, that plant consumes 50 thousand litres of diesel per day during harvesting. Such a fossil fuel consumption emits 130 tCO2eq per day.

In a recent Market Study undertaken by CIBiogás, it was possible to identify the Brazilian production potential using stillage and filter cake biodigestion at around 4 billion m3 of methane per annum - equivalent to an 8 million tCO2eq emission reduction.

5 – With this technology in operation, what will be the plant’s annual processing capacity in terms of tons of sugar cane waste?

The biogas plant will have no effect on the mass or volume of waste generated by the sugar cane plant. The biodigester will treat the waste, store biogas and produce a high quality and low organic load biofertilizer.

This prospective client has a current production of around 1.9 million m³/year of stillage, and 166 thousand tons/year of filter cake. The sector produces four kinds of waste: straw, bagasse, stillage and filter cake. However, we understand that bagasse already has an established market where biogas would not be competitive – thermoelectric plants. Straw, on its turn, is strategic to recover soils after harvesting.

6 – Please, explain to us what are the main uses of the biogas produced for the end client? How this new asset will contribute to sustainability in the agribusiness sector?

Biogas offers many different applications and monetization possibilities, such as heating, fuel for vehicles, and electric energy. This arrangement is giving priority to the enterprise’s strategic demands. There isn’t an ideal application for biogas or biomethane in the sugar cane sector.

Every enterprise, every entrepreneur has different demands and opportunities to explore in terms of sustainability and energy independence. In some cases, their internal demand is prioritized, such as using heat in industrial processes or on-grid power generation, and in other cases they may prioritize their external demand, such as biomethane production and sale, or energy sale in the open market or through auctions.

7 – Could you inform us what is the biogas sector’s potential in Brazil and its impact on energy generation and biomethane production?

Brazil currently produces around 3.1 million m³ of biogas/year. The sector can potentially produce 81 billion m³ of biogas/year, according to ABiogás’ estimates. That volume of biogas is sufficient to fulfil 36% of the national demand for electric energy, or also to replace 70% of the diesel consumed in the country.

8 – Could you tell us about the investment deemed necessary to implement the proposed biogas plant?

We cannot share details on the investment to be made due to confidentiality clauses. However, in average, a biogas plant dedicated to electric energy generation costs in average R$ 7,000 per installed kW.

9 – When do you plan to start building this biogas plant? How long do you believe it will take to build and implement the first model of a biogas processing plant for the sugar cane industry?

We plan to implement it in 2020 and to start operations in 2021.

10 – Do you think this model of a biogas plant with Fertigaz’s technology may be applied at a larger scale in Brazil? Which cities/states would be the first to receive such a plant after that?

Yes, we expect this model is replicated in other plants around the country. There are important differentials in terms of technology and implementation strategy that can be adapted to the internal demands of a plant. This is an arrangement structured to increase the sustainability of a plant and its business model.

The State of Sao Paulo (SP) accounts for around 50% of sugar cane production in Brazil, with highlight to the North-Eastern region of that state, the Southern area of Minas Gerais, and Northern Paraná.

11 – What are the regions that may most benefit from this technology? Where are the main sugar cane production centres?

The main regions are the Central-Southern and North-Eastern regions of the country, which concentrate the greatest part of national production. The State of Sao Paulo (SP) accounts for around 50% of sugar cane production in Brazil, with highlight to the North-Eastern region of that state, the Southern area of Minas Gerais, and Northern Paraná.

12 – What are the main challenges when tropicalizing biogas production technologies in Brazil?

Brazil is a country of continental dimensions with many different technological demands. However, the main aspect is knowledge transfer between Brazilian and foreign companies. Initially, foreign companies count on good technologies for their reality in the Northern hemisphere. When bringing new technologies to Brazil, it is important that they know what the national demand is. It is not just a technical matter, but also a cultural one. In the current case, Low Carbon Brazil’s initiative of bringing Brazilian and foreign companies together to tropicalize technologies has been very assertive.

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