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

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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

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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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São Carlos, Sunday Morning

May 28, 2007

Filed by Steve Ritter

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Located in the center of São Paulo state, in southern Brazil, São Carlos is a quiet city of an estimated 100,000 people. It’s in the middle of the country’s orange- and sugarcane-growing region, where we have been exploring Brazil’s biofuels industry. Today I woke up and looked from the hotel window to see the sun rising through a partly cloudy sky.

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Dante’s Catalysis

May 28, 2007

Filed by Steve Ritter 

When the American Chemical Society’s Brad Miller wrote his Discovery Corps Fellowship proposal for our Brazil trip, he envisioned including students from the U.S. and Brazil in the biofuels research partnership that he hopes to create. As part of his plan, Miller searched abstracts for the ACS national meeting in San Francisco last August to find the “best of biorenewables” presentations made by students.

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Photo Journey: Making The Most Of Sugarcane

May 27, 2007

Filed by Erika Engelhaupt and Steve Ritter

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EMERALD CITY Across this sugarcane field lies the city of Ribeirão Preto; its name translates to “little black river.” The city of about half a million people lies at the heart of the world’s largest ethanol-producing region and is home to 26 of the 128 ethanol plants in São Paulo state. About 70% of Brazil’s ethanol comes out of São Paulo.

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Beyond Biowillie

May 26, 2007

Filed by Erika Engelhaupt

Today, we rode in style—biodiesel style. Sure, it may not have panned out when Willie Nelson teamed up with celebrities to brand his own biodiesel; last week, the company reported $63 million in annual losses. But the fuel powering us in Brazil is on the cutting edge of renewable fuels research, and the scientists working on it hope to develop a worldwide market for the stuff.

 

brazil-resize.jpgOur visit with researchers at the University of Campinas began as we hopped into three experimental biodiesel vehicles from the Laboratory for Development of Clean Technology (its Portuguese acronym is LADETEL). The lab tests new biodiesel blends that are made from some exotic renewable sources, by U.S. standards: palm oil, soybean oil, and even castor oil (yum!).

 

Miguel Dabdoub of the University of São Paulo directs LADETEL. Today he proudly demonstrated his latest concoction, a blend of 30% biodiesel (in this case, made from 75% soy and 25% castor) with 70% diesel fuel (the old-fashioned fossil-fuel kind).

 

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