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01 | 2010

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Politics ethanol

Politics ethanol produced in Brazil today (about 23 billion litres per year) uses only 1.5% of the arable land. Brazil is working to double productivity in the same area by investing in technological improvements, without using genetically modified sugar cane. This means that the use of cane sugar is not impacting the balance of food production. The crops to produce biofuels are harvested far away from the rainforests and conservation areas, occupying about 10 million hectares of a total of 1.6 billion hectares of arable land. Worldwide production of bioplastics on a commercial level has raised concerns about possible competition for natural resources and land. Brazil is trying to convince the global community that it is indeed possible to produce food, beverages, biomaterials, natural fibres, fuel and electricity in some cases from agricultural products, in a competitive and sustainable way. Thus there is no place for the last remnants of neo-Malthusians who want to bury advances being made in agricultural technology. Issues such as these promise to generate less controversy on such a scale at the start the production of bioplastics from non-food biomass, such as bagasse from cane sugar or agricultural waste or tobacco. Another strong point in Brazil‘s favour is that biofuel production could also provide a platform for the socalled second generation of bioplastics, which can also use the lignin, cellulose (biomass), glycerine and other by-products of biodiesel and others. The petrochemical company Braskem is a pioneer in the large-scale production of a sustainable plastic resin made from ethanol, well known in Brazil as ‘Green Plastic‘. However, there are more investment projects by petrochemical companies in biobased polymers, the most significant in the short-term being: • Braskem: 200,000 tonnes per annum of HDPE made from ethanol. Investments of US$ 150 millions. Start-up in 2010. • Dow Chemical and Cristalsev: 350,000 tonnes per annum of LLDPE made from ethanol. Investment of US$ 1 billion. Start-up in 2011. • Solvay: 60,000 tonnes per annum of PVC in 2011 based on ethanol. • Quattor: 100,000 tonnes per annum in 2012 of propylene based on glycerine for PP production. • Oxiteno: Production of ethylene glycol and propylene glycol from the hydrogenolysis of sugar cane. ‘Biorefinery concept’ using 50,000 hectares, enough to produce 4 million tonnes of cane per year. Estimated investment of US$ 300 million. Apparently the development of technology in many fields of biopolymers is not a problem for Brazil. There has been a lot of investment and work carried out for a long period of time in universities, research centres and private companies. In addition there is a great effort by the government in funding research for industry and academia. Especially in this kind of industry the use of renewable resources will be based on the sustainability triangle (economic, social and environmental). This opens the market for further agricultural activities providing more than food and animal feed, thus helping to balance the complicated competitiveness of this sector which is subject to the weather and its consequences in harvest productivity and final prices. And better than that, this will create thousands of new ‘green jobs‘ in these agro-idustries. Brazil is very committed to being a society living with low-carbon emissions in the near future. And of course this new industry, in conjunction with sustainable management of agriculture, has much to contribute to this scenario. 50 bioplastics MAGAZINE [01/10] Vol. 5

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