Brazil's is likely to be one of the first countries in the world to produce economically viable cellulosic ethanol, participants at the Sao Paulo-based Ethanol Summit said earlier this week. Some excerpts from the story at cattlenetwork.com
The reason is simple: Feedstock costs alone account for a full 75% to 80% of the cost of ethanol produced from residual biomass, whether it comes from sugarcane, wood chips, switchgrass or corn husks, said Isaias de Carvalho Macedo, a researcher at the country's Interdisciplinary Center for Energy Planning, or NIPE, at the University of Campinas.
At the same time, Brazil already has much of the logistical infrastructure in place to collect the excess sugarcane mass, or bagasse, which will also cut down on initial costs, said Helena Chum, a senior adviser at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab.
"In the U.S the harvesting of corn stover and all that infrastructure still needs to be put in place," she said. "Here in Brazil, it already exists."
Together, Brazil and the U.S. jointly produce more than 70% of the world's ethanol. However, Brazil is the world's lowest-cost ethanol producer and the leading ethanol exporter.
If new ethanol technologies take off, Brazil could almost double its ethanol output - set to hit over 20 billion liters in the ongoing 2007-08 season - to 36 billion liters per harvest, without expanding planted area beyond its current 6 million hectares, said Nilson Zaramella Boeta, the head director of Brazil's leading private cane research center, the Center for Cane Technology, or CTC.
Just a handful of years back, it cost $6 per gallon to produce ethanol from residual biomass in the U.S., Chum said.
"Now it's fallen to about $3 per gallon in 2007, while the cost of producing enzymes has fallen 20-fold in the past four years," she said.
"Enzymes have to cost about 5 U.S. cents per liter here in Brazil, just for us to begin thinking of its economic viability," said Elba P.S. Bon, the scientific coordinator of Brazil's Bioethanol Project. "Right now, 12.4 U.S. cents per liter," she added.
By 2012, if the cost-cutting trend continues, the cost of producing ethanol via cellulosic technologies could slip to a cost-effective $1 per gallon, said Chum.