Brazil's Ethanol Fueled Plant on Stream

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan. 21 (UPI) — Brazil has inaugurated its first commercial ethanol-fueled power plant amid questions being asked about the global impact of increased feedstock production on food agriculture.

The ethanol used in the plant comes from sugarcane, but other biofuels being researched for ecologically friendly attributes or all-weather use are using huge quantities of soy, sunflower and other oil seeds.

Although most of the crops used in feedstock for fuels are grown specifically for the purpose, analysts said acreage under food crops was falling internationally as entrepreneurs and governments allocated vast tracts of land to feedstock.

Brazil has announced extensive programs for producing biofuels from soy, sunflower and other oil seeds, including diesel for export that can withstand extremely cold weather.

The ethanol-fueled power plant in the state of Minas Gerais uses a flex-fuel turbine that was converted from running solely on natural gas to ethanol. The plant began its test operations Dec. 31 and currently is going through various stages of optimization, officials said.

Petrobras, the state-managed oil company, said the ethanol project gave Brazil a clear lead in the global quest for alternative, ecologically friendly sources of power generation.

Greater use of biofuels has been spurred in low-income regions, such as the Caribbean and West Africa, by cash constraints in countries that are finding high bills for crude oil and gas a major block to new development.

The ethanol-fueled turbine is part of a larger power generation complex that has other plants running on gas and oil, thermoelectric and hydroelectric sources.

Brazilian experts converted General Electric turbines for use with ethanol, Petrobras said.

The conversion involved the replacement of the combustion chamber, of one of the injector nozzles, and the installation of peripheral equipment (receipt system, tanks, pumps and filters) that allow the receipt, storage and flow of ethanol to the turbine, Petrobras said.

The company said it invested about $25 million in bringing the project to the correct stage, which will supply electricity for about 150,000 inhabitants.

Maria das Gracas Foster, head of Petrobras natural gas division, said the company had “great expectations” to demonstrate the viability and economy of generating electricity from an alternative to fossil fuels.

Industry analysts said ethanol use in power generation did reduce the carbon footprint of a plant without compromising volumes of electricity produced, but agriculture experts remain skeptical about the long-term impact of biofuels on the world’s food agriculture.

Brazil plans to produce a record 27.8 billion liters of ethanol during the 2009-2010 season, which will be a record.

Domestic demand for ethanol in Brazil has been boosted by the introduction of flex-fuel car technology. Petrobras has indicated it sees a major new business opportunity in the ethanol technology and is actively exploring international consumer markets with colder climates.

Industry scientists will be working with the Brazilian navy to test the reaction of biofuels to extreme weather conditions, including cold conditions in the Antarctic.

Copyright 2010 by United Press International

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