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Top 10 Trends in Brazil Biofuels for 2014

Brazil’s on the move on a number of fronts — sales, diversification of products and feedstocks, and even in engine development. Let’s look at the Top 10 Trends.

1. Feedstock Diversification

If you thought it was all cane, cane, cane, think again. There’s a lot of movement on sorghum, and castor beans — and even some on corn.

Sorghum: The biggest news of late was from NexSteppe, which reported this week that it sold more than 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of its Palo Alto high biomass sorghums for biopower in Brazil this past growing season.  This makes it the market share leader in the fast-growing market for bioenergy sorghums in Brazil, with 65 percent market share.

Yields vary by location, but NexSteppe CEO Anna Rath told the Digest that “50-60 wet tons or ~25 dry tons per hectare is a conservative expectation under “ordinary” conditions.”

NexSteppe’s Palo Alto high biomass sorghums can be used alongside bagasse and other sources of biomass to provide a source of renewable power.  Unlike wind and solar, biopower is baseload power, meaning it is available 24/7.  In addition to production of electricity for the grid, biopower can therefore also be used as onsite industrial power.  This is common practice in Brazil for everything from sugar and ethanol production to grain drying to food processing.

As a result of the significant drought this year, Brazil is experiencing a shortage of hydropower, its main energy source.  Because of their heat and drought tolerance, Palo Alto hybrids performed well even under this year’s extreme conditions. Standing at up to 20 feet tall after only four months of growth, NexSteppe’s Palo Alto high biomass sorghum hybrids provide a high-yielding, low-cost, high quality biomass feedstock for biopower.  Designed to have low moisture levels at maturity, Palo Alto high biomass sorghums offer reduced harvest and transport costs and greater energy production.

Market growth expectations for NexSteppe in Brazil? “As for next season,” Rath told the Digest, “all I can tell you at this point is that we’ve had multiple customers indicate interest in increasing their areas 8-10 fold from what was planted this year.

In other sorghum news, we reported last October that Ceres and Syngenta extended a joint market development agreement in Brazil. The companies will move forward with their efforts to promote the use of both sweet sorghum and high biomass sorghum at Brazilian ethanol mills.

Under the renewed agreement, Syngenta and Ceres will continue to collaborate on field evaluations with mills. Syngenta will evaluate its portfolio of crop protection products alongside Ceres hybrids, while Ceres will provide both seed and research support. Both companies will coordinate outreach to ethanol mills and develop industry training programs. Syngenta indicated that it plans to move forward with its evaluations aimed at registering additional crop protection products for sorghum.

Corn: In December the country’s agriculture secretary says the ministry is exploring subsidies for ethanol production from corn and is looking to develop a policy to support its production. The country’s corn production has doubled in the past 11 years and the secretary says that ethanol is likely the best outlet for the surplus because it’s competitive.

Curiously, U.S. ethanol giant POET is investigating its options in the Deep South. In February, it was reported that POET representatives met with the government of Mato Grosso do Sul last Friday where local officials pointed towards a $350 million corn-based ethanol project. The facility would produce 50 million liters of ethanol per year from 350,000 metric tons of corn.

Castor bean: Last month, we reported that Evogene and SLC Agricola, one of Brazil’s largest landowners and agriculture businesses, announced the signing of a collaboration agreement between SLC and  Evofuel Ltd., Evogene’s wholly-owned subsidiary, for the commercial production of Evofuel developed castor bean varieties in Brazil, expected to take place during 2016. Evofuel focuses on the development of high yielding castor bean seeds as a second-generation feedstock for the growing biofuel and other industrial markets.

Under the terms of the agreement, Evofuel will provide SLC with seeds of its proprietary castor bean varieties and SLC will be responsible for growing the crop on its farms in northeast Brazil. The resulting castor bean grain will be sold to local oil producers to address the industry need for castor oil.  The agreement provides for the allocation between SLC and Evofuel of revenues from sales of castor bean grain. 

2. Soaring Sales

Ethanol: Domestic sales during 2013/14 reached an all-time high of 23.07 billion liters, compared to 18.68 billion liters during the previous season. Hydrous ethanol sales saw more than a 16% increase while anhydrous sales jumped nearly 36%.

Biodiesel: The ANP’s bimonthly biodiesel auction held on Friday saw 463.8 million liters sold to supply the country’s B5 blending mandate. A total of 735.2 million liters were offered at auction with more than 98% of it complying with the social seal standard even though only a minimum of 80% of the volume had to comply with the standard. The average price was BRL1.88 per liter, 23% lower than the reference price.

3. Higher Blends

Heading for 27.5 percent? Earlier this week, the agriculture ministry has confirmed that it is looking to increase the blend of anhydrous ethanol in gasoline to 27.5 percent from the current 25 percent. Such a move is expected to reduce Petrobras’ fuel imports, helping to offset some of its losses. The Brazilian stock exchange BOVESPA responded favorable to Petrobras on Friday after the confirmation was announced.

4. Exports and Imports

US market? Soaring ethanol prices due to rail bottlenecks across the country has led the US to buy ethanol from Brazil rather than vice-versa as has become common during the latter’s inter-harvest period. About 5.3 million gallons of Copersucar ethanol is set to be loaded this week in Santos, arriving in Tampa a few weeks later. 

EU imports? In February, we reported that multi-year low prices for ethanol in Rotterdam has traders looking to export to Brazil, where the inter-crop season typically leads to shortages from January through April. Dry weather may lead to a later-than-usual start to the crush which could extend the demand period for ethanol imports.

5. Finance

Last month, the Commerzbank, Inter-American Development Bank and Banco Pine S.A. closed a $115 million syndicated A/B loan to expand access to financing for environmentally sustainable projects in Brazil. The Green Line Finance Partnership entails a $75 million A loan from the IDB and $40 million B loan from Commerzbank.

With the demand for energy for both domestic and industrial purposes expected to expand 60 percent by 2021, Brazil’s energy matrix will likely shift toward a higher concentration of renewable energies, most notably energy from sugar cane derivatives and other renewables such as wind energy, small hydroelectric plants and biomass.

The Green Line Finance Partnership with Banco Pine will increase access to adequate financing for transactions, particularly in renewable energy sectors that promote environmentally sustainable initiatives and reduce the impact on climate change in Brazil.

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6. Consolidation

In December, we reported that another 20 sugarcane mills are expected to shut down in the next few years, following in the footsteps of the more than 50 that have been shuttered since 2007, even though the government agreed to boost gasoline prices by 4%. The move to reduce subsidies on gasoline isn’t expected to be enough to boost demand for ethanol sufficiently to save the mills.

7. Engines

In December, we reported that the Sao Paolo Research Foundation FAPESP and Peugeot Citroën approved a proposal for the creation of a Research and Engineering Center focused on the development of biofuel-powered combustion engines.The center will bring together researchers at the Mechanical Engineering School of the University of Campinas (Unicamp), the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo, the Mauá Institute of Technology and the Aeronautics Technology Institute (ITA). FAPESP and Peugeot Citroën do Brasil Automóveis will fund the center for four years under a contract that is renewable for another six years. The objective of the center will be to develop internal combustion engines that are adapted to or developed specifically for biofuels.

8. Restarts

Amyris Biorefinery Successfully Restarts in Brotas

In California, Amyris announced its industrial fermentation plant, located in the town of Brotas in southeastern Brazil, has successfully resumed industrial production following a planned maintenance period.

As expected, our Brotas biorefinery has started up well following our planned upgrades and, thanks to our experienced team, is delivering similar operational performance to what we experienced in our quality runs in late 2013We remain on track with our 2014 business plan and look forward to producing our first fragrance oil, patchouli, later this year at Brotas,” said John Melo, Amyris President & CEO.

As announced in December 2013, Amyris took advantage of the inter-harvest sugarcane season to make improvements to the Brotas plant to prepare for 2014 production of patchouli in addition to Biofene®, Amyris’s brand of renewable farnesene. The plant improvements were completed on time and under budget prior to the start of the sugarcane harvest season. The Brotas plant has resumed production of farnesene and is operating as planned.

In 2013, we successfully scaled our Brotas plant with record volumes of farnesene produced, started contract manufacturing initial volumes of our first fragrance molecule, and significantly expanded our customer and product portfolio. In 2014, as I wrote in my letter to our stockholders in our Annual Report, we expect to build on this success as we plan deliver not just one — but two — high-value renewable molecules from our Brotas plant, demonstrating the benefits to our partners of industrializing synthetic biologyWe are pleased with the successful scale-up of three fermentation molecules and the successful restart of our plant, as well as recently announced additions to and expansions of our collaboration portfolio,” added Melo.

“In 2013, we proved that our technology can produce and we can sell multiple renewable hydrocarbon molecules at industrial scale. We successfully scaled and operated our farnesene plant and shipped our first batches of a new fragrance oil, our second commercial molecule. We achieved a nearly 50% increase in renewable product revenues, significantly improved our adjusted gross margin, and continued to validate the strength of our research and development pipeline with funding from our collaboration partners,” said John Melo, Amyris President & CEO.

“Looking ahead, our robust collaboration and product pipeline, continued production cost improvements, and strong demand from our customers for our high performance products underpin our plans to achieve our targets of becoming cash flow positive from operations during 2014 and profitable during 2015,” Melo concluded.

9. Climate Change

In New York, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC) released their “Bioenergy and Climate Change Mitigation: An Assessment” report in Berlin on Sunday that confirmed that biofuels production is economically beneficial and that Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) modelling is unverifiable.

“Sunday’s report from the IPCC is further proof that biofuels contribute to local economies and that Indirect Land Use Change modelling is nothing more than a flawed theory,” stated Bliss Baker, spokesperson for the GRFA.

The IPCC report went on further to say that “Brazilian sugar cane ethanol production provides six times more jobs than the Brazilian petroleum sector and spreads income benefits across numerous municipalities…Worker income is higher than in nearly all other agricultural sectors and several sustainability standards have been adopted.”

The IPCC report contained another significant finding regarding Indirect Land Use Change, an attempt to predict future land use patterns globally. The report stated that “These estimates of global LUC (Land Use Change) are highly uncertain, unobservable, unverifiable, and dependent on assumed policy, economic contexts, and inputs used in the modelling.”

10. Three New Monster Advanced Biofuels & Renewable Oils Plants

GranBio Commercial Cellulosic Ethanol Plant, Alagoas, Brazil

In January: Last spring, GranBio Investimentos announced plans to invest $724.5 million in five cellulosic ethanol plants during the next few years. The first 21.6 million gallon facility in Alagoas that will use sugarcane bagasse as feedstock is expected to come online in December 2013. The first plant will produce cellulosic ethanol from sugarcane bagasse and straw, and Novozymes will supply the necessary enzyme technology while Beta Renewables and Chemtex, both part of Italian chemical group Mossi & Ghisolfi (M&G), will provide other process technologies and engineering.

Status: GranBio is guiding now that “the 2G ethanol plant being built in Alagoas should begin operating in early 2014 with a nominal production capacity of 82 million liters per year.” Meanwhile, Sugaronline News is reporting that “the Bioflex unit, a division of GranBio in Alagoas state, confirmed it would inaugurate next week its first experimental planting of energy cane production in Alagoas. The crop will be in the city of Barra de Sao Miguel, and be ready for harvest in the first quarter of 2014.”

Raizen/Iogen, First Commercial, Brazil

The Project: Iogen says it has has “one of the world’s largest and most experienced teams in developing, designing, de-bugging, scaling-up and deploying cellulosic biofuel technology. We’re using innovative thinking and disciplined engineering to transform cellulosic biofuels into real, reliable and cost-effective fuels for today’s cars and trucks. The first commercial cellulosic ethanol facility based on our technology is being built in Brazil by Raízen, a $30 billion Brazilian energy company. It is scheduled to be ready for start-up in 2014.”

Status: In December 2013, Raizen broke ground on a commercial cellulosic ethanol plant using Iogen Energy technology, which represents more than a year of cooperation between Raizen and Iogen. The $100m plant, to be located adjacent to a sugar cane mill in Sao Paulo, will produce 10 mmgy per year. The plant is expected to start production by the 4th quarter of 2014.

Solazyme-Bunge, First Commercial, Moema, Brazil

The Project: Solazyme and Bunge have broken ground on a their 100,000 metric ton renewable oil production facility adjacent to Bunge’s Moema sugarcane mill in Brazil. Construction started on schedule and the plant is targeted to be operational in the fourth quarter of 2013. It will service the renewable chemical and fuel industries within the Brazilian marketplace and will initially target 100,000 metric tons per year of renewable oil production.

In November 2012, Solazyme and Bunge announced in a framework agreement that they intend to expand production capacity from 100,000 metric tons to 300,000 metric tons globally by 2016, and that the portfolio of oils will broaden to include a range of healthy and nutritious edible food oils for sale in Brazil.

Status: The Moema plant in Brazil is currently being commissioned, with fermentation set to start in March and product recovery in April. At that point, Solazyme will be the first player in the algae bioindustrial arena to have achieved commercial-scale production in both North and South America.” CEO Jonathan Wolfson adds: ““In the first half of 2014, we are focused on successfully executing Solazyme’s entry into broad commercial operations. We have begun shipping multiple products from the Clinton/Galva, Iowa facilities and are deep into commissioning in Brazil as we complete the first-of-its-kind 100,000 MT Solazyme Bunge Renewable Oils (SB Oils) facility at Moema.”

This article was originally published on Biofuels Digest and was republished with permission.

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