Electricity from biomass set to grow in Brazil

Thursday 16 August 2012

Biomass had a 31% share in the Brazilian energy matrix in 2010, with 17.7% sugar cane products, 9.5% wood and 3.8% from other residues. Studies undertaken by the Ministry of Mines and Energy show that by 2020 biomass will have more than 35% participation in the energy matrix.

Biomass is any non-fossil organic matter of animal or plant origin, which can be used to produce heat, either for industrial thermal demand, to generate electricity and/or to be transformed into other forms of energy, including solid (charcoal and briquettes), liquid (ethanol and biodiesel), and gaseous (biogas from waste).

Projections indicate that by 2020 electricity generation from biomass will reach an installed capacity of 20.1 GW, accounting for 11% of total installed capacity, compared to 7.8 GW and a 6.6% share in 2010. Generation from sugar cane bagasse is the main reason for growth in the period.

Decentralized electric power generation and cogeneration (combined heat and mechanical energy) make biomass a technically and economically competitive option. Its use promotes local energy generation and decentralized jobs, reducing the problem of rural exodus and dependence on imported energy.

Biomass is currently mostly used for electricity generation, particularly in co-generation systems (which is the case in the interior of São Paulo State, using sugar cane bagasse waste), and for electricity supply to communities isolated from the grid (which is the case in the Amazon, where oil from fruits typical of the region, such as palm oil, buriti, babassu and carapa are burned in boilers and internal combustion engines).

In the State of São Paulo - the most populous and wealthy in Brazil - the high productivity achieved by the sugar cane crop has provided a large amount of organic matter in the sugar mills and distilleries. In addition, the harvest period coincides with the dry season and low water in the main river basins.

In the past, wood used to represent 40% of primary electricity production in Brazil. Its importance in the energy matrix diminished, but wood and charcoal still have some presence: they now account for 1.3% of Brazil's energy production.

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