NREL, Petrobras partner to research biofuels

By Kris Bevill | November 03, 2008
Web exclusive posted Nov. 28, 2008 at 5:01 p.m. CST

The United States and Brazil may be on different sides of the fence when it comes to the U.S. ethanol import tariff, but a new research agreement recently signed by entities from the two countries could signal a shift in cooperative efforts between the largest ethanol producing nations on the planet.

The U.S. DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Petrobras, the largest energy company in Latin America, have signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate for two years on research to accelerate the development and commercialization of second-generation biofuels. It's the first collaborative effort between the two entities and stems from an earlier agreement signed by the DOE and the government of Brazil, stating their desires to work together on renewable energy projects. Research will be conducted jointly at NREL's laboratory in Golden, Colo., and in Brazil.

NREL's research and development has primarily focused on the technoeconomic, environmental and sustainability evaluation of advanced biofuels. Petrobras has experimented more with various feedstocks and types of fuel production, including cellulosic ethanol from sugarcane bagasse and a petroleum substitute derived from biomass sources. The agreement signed by NREL and Petrobras will combine each lab's expertise and focus on four specific areas of collaboration: biochemical production processes, thermochemical processes, economic and sustainability analysis from lignocellulosic biomass and evaluation of intermediate blends of ethanol and gasoline.

NREL spokesman George Douglas said that while specific feedstocks of interest include sugarcane bagasse and other crop residues, pretreatment work will be the focus of the initial research. Douglas added that because it's the first joint research agreement to be entered into by the two countries, neither really knows what advancements have been made by the other, so the arrangement also offers an opportunity for NREL and Petrobras to evaluate advancements made by the other and to share already-acquired information.