2007/08/24

Brasil: Experience with Biofuels

There are three good reasons for me to learn more about Brasil and biofuels:
  1. Brasil has extensive experience with biofuels.
  2. Brasil has many environmental factors which will help it lead the world in biorefinery innovation.
  3. I would like to visit Brasil (and do some consulting work there, if possible).
While doing biorefinery and ethanol research today I read two well-written blogs about biofuels and Brasil, ethablog and ethanol brasil. I was especially interested in those blogs because I think it's very important that US biorefinery organizations and companies not ignore what Brasil has learned about biorefineries over the past thirty years. In today's knowledge economy, we should value Brasil's hard-earned knowledge about ethanol and biorefineries. We should be willing and eager to learn from others' experiences and not feel like we have to blindly overcome the same challenges others countries or regions faced while developing their biorefinery industry sector.

As a first step in a personal effort to learn more about the Brasil biorefinery sector, I sent an email to the author of those blogs. Along with an invitation to participate in the proposed October 2007 BioRefine meeting in Wisconsin, I offered to meet with him in Michigan if he has the time and interest.

Three specific aspects of the Brasilian bio-ethanol ecosystem of interest for northeast Wisconsin are:
  1. Learnings about smaller-scale biorefinery facilities. Many of the biomass conversion plants in Brasil appear to be co-located with agricultural processing facilities rather than stand-alone mega-production facilities. Experience with small and medium conversion plants should translate well to the Wisconsin situation.
  2. Brasil has many years of experience with vehicles operating on various levels of ethanol. Wisconsin consumers and all parts of the automotive sector, including maintenance and repair, should learn from Brasil's experience in this area.
  3. Improving the economic outlook for farmers and other agricultural sector workers. Because agriculture and forestry have been such a large part of northeast Wisconsin's economy but are now sectors with ongoing job losses, anything we can learn from Brasil's biorefineries about creating jobs in agriculture and forestry will be beneficial to the New North.
While Wisconsin has much to learn from Brasil, there are also opportunities for Brasil to learn from Wisconsin. Brasil does not appear to be much further ahead in the area of cellulosic ethanol than the US. Research being done now or in the near future at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and other organizations within Wisconsin may bring cost-effective technologies to Brasil for converting their cellulose biomass to biofuels. It is important for both regions to collaborate, learning from the strengths of the other and making reliable and affordable biofuels a reality.

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