CTBE performs assessment of new technologies within the sugarcane production chain and other biomasses considering agricultural, industrial and logistics and use phases. Technical parameters are analyzed, as well as the three pillars of sustainability: economic, environmental and social.
For this purpose, a team composed by engineers and researchers develop a simulation and evaluation tool to assess new technologies and innovations in the production and processing of biomass. Called Virtual Sugarcane Biorefinery (VSB), this tool can be used to: 1) optimize concepts and processes present in a biorefinery; 2) evaluate the sustainability aspects of biorefinery alternatives and; 3) analyze the stage of development of new technologies.
The VSB construction started in 2010 and currently it is considered a worldwide unique tool for integrated biorefineries assessment.VSB is not a single software, but a set of commercial software and in-house models.
In the agricultural sector, the model incorporates relevant parameters such as, types of harvest and plantation, transport system, agricultural operations, machinery, implements, labor, pesticides, fertilizers etc.
The industrial sector is modeled using powerful process simulation software. The logistics and final use of biorefinery products is also modeled using specific models developed by the CTBE’s Division of Integrated Assessment of Biorefineries staff.
Cellulosic ethanol production (second generation), first generation ethanol, compounds from green chemistry, new sugarcane agricultural technologies as well as different commercialization strategies and uses for ethanol as biofuel are aspects assessed by VSB.
The information and knowledge generated by VSB can contribute to companies, government and research and development institutions to define priorities of research and public policies. These actors can use the tool for evaluating the success of projects and investments plans in new technologies.
Agricultural and Use Modeling
The team that works in this area develops an agricultural spreadsheet, named “CanaSoft”. This model includes a detailed description of the main agricultural operations in the sugarcane crop production (pre-planting operations, soil preparation, planting, cultivation, harvesting and sugarcane transport).
CanaSoft calculates sugarcane production costs and provides resources use and emissions inventories for life cycle assessment. It can be customized to include other biomasses in the sugarcane production chain, such as corn, sweet sorghum, energy cane, forest residues among others.
A similar tool called Log&UsoSoft has been developed to evaluate different alternatives for commercialization and use of biorefinery products. A first version of this model focuses on commercialization strategies and use options for ethanol as biofuel for the transport sector.
Industry Modeling and Simulation
In this area is performed simulation and technical evaluation of several innovative routes and technologies for biomass conversion. The focus is on sugarcane as biomass for first and second generation ethanol production, but also includes other feedstocks and a variety of products such as sugar, electricity, other liquid fuels (obtained using thermochemical and biochemical conversion routes), materials (such as biopolymers) and building blocks for chemical industry. Powerful process simulation softwares such as AspenPlus, SuperPro Designer, EMSO, among others are used to perform mass and energy balances in different industrial process design.
Sustainability Assessment Methodologies
The assessment of methodologies for distinct technologies, definitions and applications of sustainability includes the following aspects:
- Economic analysis: assessment of capital investment cost, calculation of internal rate of return (IRR), net present value (NPV), production costs, among others;
- Environmental analysis: evaluation of greenhouse gas emissions (GEE), energy balance, water consumption, land use changes and other environmental impacts included in the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) such as acidification, eutrophication and human toxicity, among others;
- Social analysis: quantitative assessment of social impacts derived from technology changes (e.g., automation, plant scale, agricultural sector mechanization, among others) in the sugarcane sector.