Signing Off

June 4, 2007

flags-smallcropped.jpgFiled by Steve Ritter

We are back in the U.S. now, and this is the final post for our Brazil blog. Over the past 10 days, Erika and I have chronicled a tour of Brazilian biofuels research centers and production facilities, along with a concluding symposium that set a goal of developing a shared road map for Brazilian-U.S. collaboration on biofuels research.

I could recap the highlights of our trip here, but I think it’s better simply to direct you to the beginning of the blog and let you take a few minutes to read through the entries yourself. You also can follow this link to read a C&EN story on the symposium.

One thing I never got around to doing in the blog is to point out the many historical similarities between Brazil and the U.S. Both countries began as colonies to European powers and were taken advantage of for their natural resources and abundant land suitable for agriculture. The colonists and their expansion essentially destroyed the cultures of the indigenous peoples and assimilated them into a European-style culture—a mostly British influence in the U.S. and an Iberian influence in Brazil.

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A Closer Look At Biodiesel Emissions

June 3, 2007

Filed by Erika Engelhaupt

The scientists who came together this week in Brazil work in many areas of chemistry, as well as engineering, agronomy, and plant genetics. But I noticed that they were united not just by an interest in biofuels, but also by an ideal of sustainability. Whether they were discussing green chemistry or improving feedstocks, they were enthusiastic about using renewable resources in a sustainable way.

I don’t know whether everyone here would label themselves as an environmentalist, but this is certainly an environmental ideal.

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Bill Bio And The Boys From Ribeirão Preto

June 1, 2007

biocar-small.jpgFiled by Steve Ritter

There hasn’t been a day on our Brazil trip that I haven’t been amazed by the talent and warm-heartedness of our Brazilian hosts. As Erika related in a post the other day (Beyond Biowillie), during our tour of Brazil, we have been whisked around São Paulo state in a fleet of biodiesel cars that are part of a test program run by Miguel J. Dabdoub and his group at the University of São Paulo, Ribeirão Preto. We have been living the experiment, so to speak.

Erika and I have ended up riding most of the time with Daniel A. Bortoleto and Vinicius D. Sellani, shown above with their car (Sellani left, Bortoleto right). We enjoyed polite conversation with these two unassuming graduate students during our excursions. One day, Vinicius turned around from the front seat and asked if we knew about their cooking oil recycling program. I figured they must do what a number of college students in the U.S. do and collect some used cooking oil from a local restaurant to make biodiesel to run their own cars. But it turned out there is a little more to the story.

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Waste Not, Want Not

June 1, 2007

 

fosteralone-small.jpgFiled by Erika Engelhaupt

When it comes to solving energy problems, Foster Agblevor thinks big. As a bioresource engineer at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, he designs chemical and industrial processes that make the most of natural resources. His goal: to create energy and biobased products while making waste a thing of the past. He’s been an energetic member of our traveling group in Brazil, with a quick smile and lots of questions as he looks for opportunities to work with Brazilian scientists and companies.

“There is no such thing as waste in biomass,” Agblevor says. “As soon as you find a use for something, it is a resource.” All that’s required is a shift in point of view, he adds.

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Factories To Make Factories

May 31, 2007

Filed by Steve Ritter

One of the most striking achievements of Brazil’s biofuels industry is the vision of scientists, government officials, business leaders, and educators to work together to develop an integrated approach for future growth.

For example, agronomists are working to prepare new plant cultivars that produce more oil or more sugar through selective breeding and genetic modification. These scientists are soil-small.jpgalso working to adapt some of Brazil’s many species of plants that typically have not been used in agriculture. Soil scientists are conducting research to ensure that the country’s increase in agricultural production doesn’t destroy the fragile soil ecology. The reddish soil is rich for growing crops (right), but the high mineral content needs to be balanced with organic carbon. Thus, no-till planting techniques that return plant residues to the soil are being encouraged.

As we witnessed in our explorations of bioethanol and biodiesel plants this past week, companies are squeezing out every possible drop of energy from sugarcane, beef production, and soybeans and other crops to produce fuels, feed, and fiber.

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Cafezinho, Anyone?

May 30, 2007

coffee-small.jpgFiled by Erika Engelhaupt

The caipirinha may qualify as Brazil’s national drink, but the super-strong coffee known as cafezinho (ca-fay-zheen-yo) is the most popular. Morning, noon, and night (as a sleep aid!), Brazilians sip cafezinho, often just called café,  from tiny white cups with saucers.

Here at the biofuels symposium, cups of Brazilian coffee act as another type of biofuel, fueling the scientists as they discuss their latest research challenges.

And it’s no wonder the drink’s so popular; Brazil is the world’s largest producer of coffee, growing about a quarter of the world’s supply. Much of the coffee here is grown in low-lying regions, unlike in many other coffee-growing areas, and it currently grows in the warmer climate of northern Brazil. But Brazil’s production of coffee and other crops could face challenges in a warming world.

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Caipirinha Chemistry

May 30, 2007

daniel1-small.jpgFiled by Steve Ritter

Before coming to Brazil, I was inundated by suggestions that I had to try a caipirinha, Brazilians’ favorite alcoholic mixed drink. The caipirinha is a simple cocktail made from sugar, limes, and cachaça, which is a type of rough-tasting brandy made from—what else—sugarcane. It’s similar to rum.

On Sunday afternoon, the U.S.-Brazilian biofuels delegation was invited to attend a barbeque hosted by chemists from the Federal University of São Carlos. There was plenty of succulent grilled beef and chicken, manioc (cassava), fresh oranges and limes picked straight off the tree, and of course, caipirinhas.

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Growing In Brazil

May 30, 2007

Filed by Erika Engelhaupt

This is a vast land, about the size of the continental U.S., and words like verdant and lush can barely describe the way things grow here. The rich growing conditions have shaped a country that is both modern and intensely agricultural at the same time. Today, Brazil faces many choices about how to make the best use of its ecological fortune, and researchers here say that with some foresight, biofuels production can be done without sacrificing the landscape.

Brazil’s diversity is almost overwhelming to a U.S. traveler. For example, on Sunday, we visited the chácara (a small farm used as a getaway) of Fatima Silva, a chemistry professor at the Federal University of São Carlos, and her husband, Leonel. They hosted us for a Sunday barbecue, and their small backyard overflowed with oranges, several kinds of limes, pineapples, bananas, papaya—and chickens as colorful and varied as the fruit.

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Photo Journey: A Recipe For Biodiesel

May 29, 2007

Filed by Erika Engelhaupt and Steve Ritter

biodieselplantcane-small.jpg

ON THE HORIZON Biocapital’s biodiesel plant in Charqueada is one of the first of many anticipated Brazilian facilities that will make biodiesel from vegetable oil and/or animal fat. Ironically, the plant is viewed across a sea of sugarcane, the source of ethanol, Brazil’s other biofuel.

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Biodiesel Chemistry 101

May 29, 2007

img_0277-small.jpg

Filed by Erika Engelhaupt

If you don’t know your biodiesel from your bioassay, this blog’s for you.

To bone up on the basic chemistry behind biodiesel, I turned to one of the pros in our tour group: William (Rusty) Sutterlin (shown, right), chief executive officer of Renewable Alternatives, based in Columbia, Mo. As we toured the Biocapital biodiesel refinery in Charqueada today, Sutterlin was always handy with a clear explanation of what was happening inside the tangle of pipes and tanks. So after the tour, I snagged him and sat down for a crash course in methyl esters and a peek inside his company, which turns a by-product from biodiesel production into nontoxic antifreeze, or propylene glycol.

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