Sugarcane vs. Corn for Biofuel
Move over corn, because sugarcane is the new way to produce biofuels. That’s right, the sugarcane industry is growing mostly in part because the plant can be converted into fuel more efficiently than corn. It has to do with the byproduct of sugarcane called bagasse. This byproduct can be used to heat the distillation process and provides an advantage for the sugarcane plant. Another advantage is that sugarcane is less expensive than corn and is cheaper to process. Plus the electricity it takes to run the factory can be produced from any leftover waste. In Brazil the sugarcane crops occupy only 2% of the arable land disputing the idea that it causes deforestation. Right now Brazil is the world’s second largest producer of biofuels and is considered to be a sustainable biofuel economy. Last year the country produced about 24.5 billion liters of biofuel. However, efforts are being made to change the sugarcane industry from making ethanol fuel, to using the sugarcane to make biodiesel. The reason for switching to biodiesel is simple. Biodiesel is more efficient than ethanol. The market for biodiesel is booming, it is producing ten times more liters than it did eight years ago. Almost 11 billion liters per year. One company that is paving the way is Amyris Biotechnologies based out of Colorado. The company has plans to open a plant in Campinas, Brazil that will produce diesel from sugarcane. The future plant should have the capacity to produce about 10,000 gallons of diesel per year. They will ferment the sugar using yeastto produce hydrocarbons instead of ethanol. This is all made possible by synthetic biology and reengineering microbes. After the hydrocarbons are formed they will then be used to make diesel fuel as well as other chemicals. This is not biodiesel but more like conventional diesel, it can be used wherever petroleum diesel is used. By 2011 Amyris hopes to begin selling the diesel fuel, in Brazil and hopefully the US and Europe. Using diesel fuel that is made from sugarcane plants and not petroleum will help world countries reduce their dependencies on oil companies. So it looks like sugarcane will be the plant that saves the world from climate change and corn will remain most importantly a food staple.
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