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Amyris's biofuel plant in Brazil is one of the largest test deployments of sugar-based microbial biodiesel to date. It should be an important test of the new technology's commercial potential.  (Source: Wired.com)
Will company offer the best biofuel yet, or just another pricey alternative?

A new kind of fuel production has launched in Brazil.  Unlike ethanol plants in the country which turn sugarcane to ethanol or traditional oil refining, the new plant produces the equivalent of diesel fuel formed from the waste byproducts of microbes that "eat" and reprocess the sugar.  Built by Emeryville, CA-based Amryis Technologies, the plant aims to produce 10,000 gallons a year (approximately 238 barrels).

While biodiesel and biofuels are not exactly a new concept, this is one of the largest test deployments to date of sugar based biodiesel, particularly of a microbial scheme (most biodiesel is formed from plant oils, such as palm oil).  The plant aims to produce, with government regulation and carbon taxes, fuel at $60/barrel (approximately $1.43 per gallon).  This indicates that their technology may be nearing cost competitiveness with cellulosic ethanol manufacturers -- the best of which, Coskata, claims to be on the verge of $1.00 per gallon ethanol.

Advantages of the cellulosic ethanol include being able to come from waste materials unlike the biodiesel that’s formed from sugar crops.  However, the biodiesel packs more energy per gallon and the microbes could eventually be genetically engineered to process cellulose as well.  It’s hard to tell which solution costs less, given that the target costs for the biodiesel are post-subsidy, while Coskata's targets are pre-subsidy.

The plant will go online in 2011 and should looks to sell its high-grade fuel products primarily overseas as Brazil doesn't use much diesel fuel.

One key advantage of the biodiesel is like ethanol it lacks the harmful impurities found in standard oil.  The fuel features less sulfur, less carbon monoxide, and fewer nitrogen oxides, particulates, and other emissions, compared with petroleum diesel.  States Neil Renninger, founder and chief technical officer of Amyris, "The greenness of the fuel might drive a few people to it, but we need to be cost competitive."

The plant will use existing sugarcane delivery infrastructure.  However, it faces tough competition.  Sugarcane ethanol production is much more energy efficient than that of its American brethren, corn ethanol.  Sugarcane waste is burned and the production consumes less electricity, leading to a net electricity surplus.  Corn ethanol, meanwhile consumes more electricity to produce than it generates.  Lester Lave, a professor of economics and co-director of the Electricity Industry Center at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, praises sugarcane ethanol, stating, "The net energy invested in sugarcane ethanol is not very high and leads to huge gains relative to the gain from corn."

However, sugarcane is unfortunately limited by geography, as it grows best in tropical regions which are warmer and receive more sunlight.  A few states -- Hawaii, Louisiana, and Florida do have conditions conducive to moderate sugarcane yields.  A corn-sugarcane hybrid called corncane might be viable across a broader range of states, though, while retaining much of sugarcane's benefits.



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RE: Can that be right?
By safcman84 on 7/10/2009 7:54:04 AM , Rating: 5
If you read the article and ignore the title, you might see that it is a test plant hence the small production capacity.


RE: Can that be right?
By phxfreddy on 7/10/2009 8:55:40 AM , Rating: 2
Something smells wrong...that was their point. Its not just the low capacity...how about the location? Where is the nearest cane grown?

Maybe they are prototyping so they can sell units to Brazil.

Brazil uses its fair share of diesel unlike what the arty suggests. It has potential. The government here does not tax diesel as much as they do gasoline. While being oil independent gasoline costs 2X what it does in the USA because of all the taxes. Trust a left winger to "help" you!


RE: Can that be right?
By sviola on 7/10/2009 10:50:06 AM , Rating: 2
That's right, Diesel is the most used fuel used here in Brazil. And the country is moving towards biodiesel (Rio de Janeiro City Hall just passed a law that all public transportation must use biodiesel in their fleet starting next year).


RE: Can that be right?
By Starcub on 7/10/2009 11:42:28 AM , Rating: 2
The company is located in Brazil; they get their sugar for reprocessing from existing infrastructure within Brazil. The only difference between what this new company is doing and what existing Brazilian sugarcane based biodeisel producers are doing is in the method of production.

This is a test case to guage relative costs. In fact they don't even need to use sugar as a source, but it's probably cheapest to do so since they already grow sugar for biodeisel production in Brazil. From their results here, they can more easily determine how they might expand into other markets where other products, or waste products, might be more suitable for use as source material.


RE: Can that be right?
By mmcdonalataocdotgov on 7/10/09, Rating: 0
RE: Can that be right?
By knutjb on 7/10/2009 2:31:10 PM , Rating: 2
IT'S A TEST PLANT! They are starting with cane based materials and are working on cellulose as well, though down the road. R&D, then if proven viable, industrial applications.

They're in the R&D stage hence low volume production, read the article.

Releasing info like this is how you get on the funding map.


RE: Can that be right?
By TGIM824 on 7/11/2009 2:12:33 PM , Rating: 2
They are testing their developed process. The point is they plan to use waste product, and convert that to biodiesel. These little microbes eat at the left over sugar cane stalks, which helps it ferment quicker.

This way, they can grow sugar cane, and use as a food crop, and then use the waste product as a fuel source.


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