By Elton Alisson
Agência FAPESP – Biorefineries, as are called the industrial complexes that produce fuel, electricity and chemicals from biomass, are becoming enterprise capable of converting a wide variety of materials, including agricultural waste, into several products. This process with more energy efficient, economic and environmental benefits compared to conventional technological processes that give rise to only one or two products.
According to Jonas Contiero, a professor at Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP), Campus of Rio Claro, the first biorefineries plants were characterized by production of ethyl alcohol by grinding dry grains such as raw materials and have a line of fixed production , which consists of ethyl alcohol in co-products and carbon dioxide.
Later, began to emerge in second generation Biorefineries that use technology for grinding “wet”, which enables the production of various final products, depending on demand, using mainly grains as raw materials. There are currently undergoing research and development of third generation of Biorefineries, such as those utilizing lignocellulosic biomass found in agricultural waste, for example, bagasse from sugar cane, for produce chemicals and biofuels.
“In a biorefinery, a single raw material, such as bagasse from sugar cane is converted into chemicals such as glucose, ethanol, citric acid, antibiotics, vitamins, enzymes, biocorantes, bioethanol and bioplastics,” exemplified Contiero.
This list of products, one of the most have been highlighted are bioplastics or biobased plastics. Made from other raw materials, the main types of plastic are based on starch, in polihidro-alkanoates, polylactic acid, such as sugarcane, and cellulose derivatives.
According to market data, although they still represent only 0.5% of 230 million tones of plastic consumed in the world today, the bioplastics sector has registered growth of 20 to 25% per year, expected to produce 230 thousand tons year over the next decade. “The countries with the highest estimated production capacity of biobased plastics are in Europe, with 140,000 tons per year, followed by the countries of North America, with 80,000 tones of Asia, with 40 000 tones and South America , 500 tons, “said Contiero. The product is used in various industries such as packaging, clothing and biomedical. In Brazil, among the companies that produce this type of plastic from sugar cane are Braskem, PHB Industrial and Usina da Pedra.
In August 2011, Contiero started a project, conducted with support from the Partnership for Technological Innovation (PITE), under a cooperation agreement between FAPESP and Braskem and Ideom, to extract and produce lactic acid by fermentation from by-products of sugarcane industry and the production of cheese to obtain polylactic acid.
According to researcher, the process is cheaper than those being developed in the United States and Belgium, which polylactic acid obtained from the use, respectively, the cornstarch and sugar beet. “The amount of lignocellulosic fibers of the waste or by-products of agro-industrial sugar cane, represented by the bagasse and straw, gives it a huge competitive advantage over other carbon sources, since this residue can be used to power generation for the operation of production plant, “said Contiero.
According Contiero, by working with agricultural raw materials, Biorefineries must be considered as an extension of the agricultural production chain and need to be physically integrated the processes of planting, harvesting, processing and processing of crops.
Source and Photo: Agência FAPESP, May 21st, 2012
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