AFTER A “PERFECT STORM”, BIOENERGY IS OFFERING SOLUTIONS FOR POST PANDEMIC RECOVERY
San Jose, 20 October 2020 (IICA). The restrictions on movement imposed by governments around much of the entire world caused a significant reduction in the demand for fuels and biofuels, causing significant economic losses as well as logistical and production problems.
However, in the wake of this catastrophe, the sector has begun to expand again and expects to see increases in the production of bioethanol from corn in Argentina, progressive use of biofuels in aviation and maritime transport, and a greater role for biogas and biomethane.
These were the scenarios outlined at the III Plenary session of the International Conference on Applied Biofuels, held virtually via the online platforms of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).
This is the first time that Latin America is hosting the International Conference on Applied Biofuels, whose 2020 session was organized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of Argentina and IICA, who were co-organizers of the event along with the International Consortium for Applied Bioeconomy Research (ICABR).
The International Conference on Applied Biofuels is considered as the main forum in the world for defining, discussing and developing the potential of bioeconomy for development. The event each year draws participation and attention from professionals in the field of agrosciences, and in the most important universities and teaching centers in the world.
Participating in the plenary session entitled “The role of Bioenergy in a post-COVID-19 world” were Luis Zubizarreta, president of the Argentine Chamber of Biofuels (CARBIO); Patrick Adam, Executive Director of the Argentine Chamber of Corn Bioethanol; Suani Teixeira Coelho, Coordinator of the Bioenergy Research Group (GBIO) and member of the Energy and Environment Institute (IEE) of the University of Sao Paulo (USP) in Brazil; Juan Sebastián Diaz, regional consultant on ethanol for Latin America at the U.S. Grains Council; and Agustín Torroba, international specialist in biofuels at IICA.
In a country-by-country analysis, Adam pointed out that the demand for Argentine bioethanol fell by a record 88% at the height of the pandemic, before experiencing a slower-than-expected process of recovery .
In the case of Brazil, the country experienced a similar situation, with a 50% decrease, coupled with prices falling by 35% during the pandemic. Added to this, many plants with no facilities for the production of sugar, were not able to store their product in order to continue producing. Teixeira Coelho described the situation as the “perfect storm”.
For his part, Sebastián Diaz estimated that some USD 7 billion were lost in the bioethanol industry as a result of the pandemic. In the United States, the recovery is faster than in Argentina and Brazil, since the consumption of bioethanol is just 4% below the 2019 level. However, the final result for 2020 will show a fall with respect to that of 2019.
In order to deal with the economic losses and the serious logistical and production problems, the panelists highlighted the contribution of biofuels and their production through biorefineries.
According to Adam, the bioethanol industry has a vital role to play in strengthening the regional economies of Argentina. Added to this is the foreign exchange savings through the substitution of gasoline imports, and meeting the goals established by Argentina to reduce its carbon emissions.
He added that there was ample opportunity for Argentina to grow in the production of corn bioethanol since the country exported 64% of this cereal without processing. This figure is much higher when compared to Brazil (36%) and the U.S. (14%).
Luis Zubizarreta made mention of biorefining (process whereby biofuels are produced) and the extent to which the biofuel industry in Argentina has served as a driver for other industries.
He highlighted the fact that exports of glycerin were exceeding USD 100 million annually and suggested that one goal could be to take on new products such as bioplastics, pesticides and fertilizers. He called for the elimination of barriers to export and presented examples of the use of pure biofuels, with no danger to engines.
Suani Teixeira Coelho mentioned the important role that biogas and biomethane play in the circular bioeconomy of Brazil. She mentioned that the number of plants have been steadily increasing, in some cases with innovative outlooks such as biomethane injection into the natural gas network, and the implementation of a unit converting solid waste into gas on a small scale.
He went on to explain the operation of RenovaBio, the program through which decarbonization credits are extended to producers of biofuels who reduce their carbon emissions, and stated that consideration is being given to extending the program to other sectors of the economy.
Sebastián Diaz also referred to the possibility presented by bioethanol as an ally in the use of gasoline, given that it is the most economical source on the market in terms of octane rating. He emphasized the fact that it was very simple to cut back on gasoline by 10% with bioethanol, and this can be done at any time. He added that biofuels can also be complementary in electricity generation, in reference to the e-Bio Fuel-Cell prototype presented by Nissan, which is equipped with a solid oxide fuel cell.
For his part, Torroba drew attention to the fact that in the Americas, there were 100 million inhabitants in cities with problems of air pollution, and that modes of transportation were responsible for 14% of the greenhouse gas emissions.
He stated that although electric vehicle sales in 2019 were at a record level, they represented only 2.6% of total sales, and that 90% of the sales were in China, Europe and the U.S.
According to Torroba, “the transition to electrical mobility will be very slow, especially in Latin America, where the electrical infrastructure is more fragile. Biofuels will become an integral part of the new paradigms for mobility, particularly in the aviation and maritime trade sectors, which are already under severe pressure to decarbonize”.
Institutional Communication Division at IICA