Synthetic Biology Biofuels and Brazilian Sugarcane

Amyris claim that the diesel that they will make with synthetic biology will release 80 percent less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than fossil fuels. Today, Brazilian sugarcane is the only crop that can possibly back up Amyris’s green marketing. Brazilian studies say that sugarcane ethanol yields about 7 to 10 times as much energy as it takes to produce the fuel; in contrast, ethanol made from corn yields just slightly more than producing it consumes.

As a market, Brazil may bring other advantages, too. The country’s demand for diesel is high, so Amyris could build a respectable business without ever exporting a drop. Brazil also has space to increase production: sugarcane is now planted on about 3 percent of Brazil’s arable land, but the crop could expand onto more than 100 million acres currently used for grazing cattle. “You could probably quadruple and quintuple the cane production,” says Bill Haywood, the CEO of LS9 and a former oil company executive

Ethanol Fuel in Brazil

Wikipedia – Brazil is the world’s second largest producer of ethanol fuel and the world’s largest exporter. Together, Brazil and the United States lead the industrial production of ethanol fuel, accounting together for 89% of the world’s production in 2008. In 2008 Brazil produced 24.5 billion litres (6.47 billion U.S. liquid gallons) which represents 37.3% of the world’s total ethanol used as fuel.

In December, Amyris reached an agreement to build its first farnesene plant, a 100-million-liter-per-year facility that will be constructed inside the newly built Boa Vista sugar and ethanol mill in Goiás. As part of the transaction, Amyris agreed to buy a 40 percent stake in the mill from its owner, Grupo São Martinho. Its total payment, around $80 million in cash and stock, was the highest price ever paid for milling capacity in Brazil, according to São Martinho’s president, Fábio Venturelli. Amyris wanted control over the construction of its first big plant, to make sure it goes smoothly. But eventually the company plans to barter its technology for access to sugarcane juice, a less expensive approach. The idea is to have Brazil’s sugar mills pay to retrofit their plants while Amyris contributes its genetically modified yeast. Amyris would then sell the farnesene and divide the profits with the mill.


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