Sugarcane industry leaders during ceremony at the São
Francisco mill (Photo: UNICA/ Alberto Gonzaga)
Entrepreneurship, foresight and a relatively simple idea put into practice 25 years ago. These were the ingredients that turned bioelectricity produced from sugarcane bagasse into reality in Brazil according to Pedro Parente, Chairman of the Board at the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA). He was among the speakers at a May 25th celebration of the 25th anniversary of bioelectricity in Brazil organized by UNICA at the São Francisco mill, first to produce energy from sugarcane bagasse, near the town of Sertãozinho, in São Paulo state.
“Today’s event is a simple praise for entrepreneurs who had a simple idea of enormous relevance for the country. We watched this idea evolve and become a huge step forward,” stated Parente during the event attended by more than 300 guests, including several leading executives from the sugarcane industry, federal, state and local government officials.
Three pioneers in bioelectricity generation from sugarcane were honored at the event: Jairo Menesis Balbo, Industrial Director at the São Francisco Mill; Agenor Pavan (in memoriam), former Industrial Director at the São Martinho Mill, in Pradópolis; and Cícero Junqueira Franco, former CEO of the Vale do Rosário Mill, near the São Paulo state town of Morro Agudo. The mill is now a part of the LDC-SEV Group, controlled by Louis Dreyfus Commodities. All received personalized plaques from UNICA, especially designed to honor their contributions to the launch of bioelectricity in 1987 at the three mills.
CPFL Energy, one of Brazil's largest non-government electricity generation and distribution utilities, was also honored for its efforts over 25 years and involvement in 1987 with the three mills where bioelectricity was launched. The company was represented by the CEO of its Paulista and Piratininga units, Hélio Viana. The Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES in Portuguese) was also recognized for its role in financing all early bioelectricity projects. The Head of the Biofuels Department at BNDES, Carlos Eduardo Siqueira Cavalcanti, received a commemorative plaque on behalf of BNDES President Luciano Coutinho.
“In 25 years we were able to develop the technology and regulate the market. Now we need to keep on growing,” recalled Jairo Balbo, who received a plaque honoring São Francisco, the first mill in Brazil to generate bioelectricity for the distribution grid. The São Martinho and Vale do Rosário mills were also recognized with special plaques recognizing their role. Both followed São Francisco with their own bioelectricity generation projects in 1987.
In his opening remarks, UNICA Technical Director and Interim President Antonio de Padua Rodrigues said there are roughly 160 mills that export bioelectricity in Brazil today, which is an incredible performance over the years: “The energy from cane bagasse sold to the grid corresponds to almost 30% of all residential consumption in the State of São Paulo.”
The Secretary of Electrical Energy at the federal Mines and Energy Ministry, Ildo Wilson Grudtner, representing interim Minister Márcio Zimmerman at the event, explained that “biomass today is ranked third in electricity generation in Brazil, behind hydroelectricity and natural gas, which further demonstrates the relevance of the sugarcane industry in yet another important aspect for the country.”
São Paulo State Energy Secretary José Aníbal, representing State Governor Geraldo Alckmin, detailed the untapped potential of biomass based electricity, which he described as “equivalent to the output of the Itaipú hydro dam,” which for several years was the world’s largest hydro plant. “The government of the State of São Paulo has been a partner and supporter of cogeneration all along,” he added.
In his speech, BNDES representative Carlos Cavalcanti recalled his institution’s key role in the long term financing of bioelectricity projects. “Ï would like to highlight the commitment of the Bank to bioelectricity, which has grown to become one of the pillars of sustainability in Brazil,” he stated.
UNICA’s Bioelectricity Manager, Zilmar De Sousa, reaffirmed the huge potential to expand bioelectricity generation from sugarcane bagasse in Brazil. “We have the potential to reach 134 million MWh (average megawatts) per year, or 15.300 average MW per year by 2020. This totals more than three times what the Belo Monte hydro mill will be capable of producing when ready,” he said.
“Achieving the full potential of bioelectricity generation by 2020 would avoid almost 40 million tons of CO2 emissions, or more than two and a half times the total emissions of greenhouse gases in the São Paulo metropolitan area,” he concluded.