A recent United Nations report suggests that, by 2030, biomass will be responsible for up to 60% of all renewable energy produced on the planet. Brazil will be one of the highlights.
The relationship between global warming, sustainable development and companies’ business strategies has never been more evident than now. And this has been captured in numerous studies and surveys conducted in Brazil and abroad. One of them, the 2014 version of survey conducted by the consulting firm Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), helps to illustrate this phenomenon more eloquently.
The 52 public and private Brazilian companies that participated in the survey have saved a total of R$ 118.7 million with the adoption of mechanisms to reduce their CO2 emissions. Those companies invested R$ 3.7 billion in these projects, most of them related to improvement of the quality of the energy sources used in their operations. Although disbursements were 38% lower compared to 2013, CO2 emissions from this group dropped by 103%.
To “clean up” their energy equation, the industrial sector has been relying heavily on diversification of energy sources. Consequently, there is an increasing likelihood that biomass (which includes the burning of reforestation wood, forest waste and residues of agricultural production) will assume an even greater role in the Brazilian and global energy matrix. At least that’s what the UN report suggests, prepared under the Sustainable Energy for All movement, forecasting that by 2030, between 40% and 60% of all renewable energy on the planet will be extracted from biomass. Especially in energy cogeneration projects.
One of the companies joining this movement is Dow, in the petrochemical area. It is only natural, for those who have this attribute in their DNA. The company’s Canadian founder Herbert Dow was a pioneer in the research and use of cogeneration in the 1890s. One hundred and twenty-four years later, cogeneration was the technology chosen for Dow’s Brazilian branch to improve its energy balance and increase the level of competitiveness of its industrial plant located in Aratu (BA), Dow’s largest in the country.
For this project, Dow formed a partnership with ERB – Energias Renováveis do Brasil, which builds and operates cogeneration power plants, fueled by biomass from proprietary forests. The partnership resulted in an investment of R$ 265 million in the construction of a thermoelectric power plant for energy production and steam generation, fueled by the burning of eucalyptus. The project currently provides 700 direct jobs.
“Our goal with this operation was to improve the company’s competitiveness, something vital in a very price-sensitive sector”, explains Claudia Schaeffer, director of energy and climate change at Dow Brasil. From an environmental standpoint, Dow will cease to issue 180 thousand tons of CO2 per year. A similar process involving a change of input for a greener option will be carried out in the Guarujá (SP) unit, in which fuel oil will be replaced by natural gas.
More than just improving its image, Dow Brazil’s effort to clean up its energy matrix is part of a global corporate determination. “The company’s leaders have changed their world views long ago, and have since been striving to extend sustainability policies throughout company operations, including employees’ day-to-day activities” says the director. In the midst of this process, workers from all sectors are encouraged to suggest projects and processes that allow a reduction of energy expenditure for a conglomerate that consumes 12 gigawatts per year, equivalent to the capacity of the Itaipu power plant. Such measures have been generating significant results. “In the period from 1990-2000, Dow’s energy intensity was reduced by 40%, globally.”
Another company involved in biomass projects is the American company NexSteppe, in the agricultural technology area. The company is focused on sorghum, but not the grain sorghum traditionally used in crop rotation or as a supplement to animal feed. NexSteppe scientists are proposing a “vitamin enriched” product line called Biomass Sorghum, which can be burned directly in boilers. Field surveys have been conducted in Brazil for three years. The results were positive.
“It is already clear that the product is competitive,” says Tatiana Gonsalves, NexSteppe’s commercial vice-president for Latin America. “The experimental production of 100 tons resulted in a volume of seed orders enabling the production of 600 tons.” Known as an “explosive hybrid”, this variety reaches its harvesting stage in only 120 days. The team led by Tatiana has been working hard. Tests have covered all production stages, including application in boilers used for grain drying. Items such as ideal conditions for harvesting, storage and the amount of resulting ash were also analyzed.
The goal is to use this type of sorghum as an alternative to the burning of sugar cane bagasse. This option is relevant when considering that, with the growth of second generation ethanol projects, bagasse will probably become scarce. “The sale of energy will likely become a big business for plants, in periods when ethanol prices are declining,” foresees NexSteppe’s vice-president. According to her, the company’s sorghum is exclusively focused on energy generation, therefore there is no risk of it competing with food production. The crop is robust and withstands harsh environments, where food production is not always feasible. It also benefits the farmer, who could use the crop for diversification of land and revenue sources. “Net profit stands around R$ 800 per hectare, which is attractive for the sector,” adds the vice-president.
The American company’s efforts to bring this research to Brazil is explained by the country’s agricultural strength. The goal is to apply the results obtained here in other emerging countries. After all, growth depends on energy supply. Abundant and competitively priced energy supply.
~ Rosenildo Ferreira