01 March 2010

Ethanol, Sugar and Case IH.. Oh My!

Today was spent in Piracicaba. We start at the Luiz de Quoiroz College of Ag. They have 236 faculty members and 805 staff members total. Their driving areas of research are BioEnergy, BioTechnology and BioEconomics. We spent the majority of our day learning about sugar cane. Did you know that in the first twelve months sugar cane plants will reach four to five meters with the extractable culm measuring two to three meters? After the harvest underground buds will sprout giving rise to the new crop. The average planting of sugar cane harvest renders five to seven years of harvest. That alone is an amazing statistic.

Sugar cane is used for two things primarily: Ethanol and sugar. In fact 51.1% of cane is used for ethanol and 48.9% is used for sugar. Brazil has actually displaced 50% of their gasoline consumption by using ethanol. ELSAQ (which is very similar to our University of Illinois College of ACES) has a long history of research dating back to the 1920’s. The United States and Brazil account for 90% of the world’s ethanol production. However the statistics are almost shocking – the US only consumes 2 to 3 percent of ethanol for transportation while Brazil uses 40 percent. Keep in mind they also have a 25 percent blend mandate from their government.

The processing of sugar cane ethanol seems to be very similar to the crush process of soybeans. The crush of sugar cane yields 85 percent liquid and 15 percent bagasse (or the pulp). From there the sugar cane juice is reduced to 40 percent from the original 85 percent. At that 40 percent – the liquid becomes molasses and can either be turned into sugar or ethanol.

That pretty much takes us up to the production part but it all has to get there somehow, right? Right. We spent our afternoon at the Case IH facility in Piracicaba. They produce four sugar cane harvesters per day. All assembled and inspected by hand. There is no robotic assembly in the plant. Case IH produced their first sugar cane harvester in 1997 and now account for 52.2 percent of the market share.

Some other items of interest pointed out today: Only 60 percent of the harvest is mechanized in South America. That leaves 40 percent done by hand. However world wide – that number is even more shocking… 80 percent of cane harvest is still done by hand. Case IH mentioned one of their goals was to have 95 percent of areas with a slope under 12 percent mechanically harvested by the year 2021. The Sao Paulo government came back and mandated that 95 percent number be in place by 2014 and also said they wanted to see all of the acres with a slope under 12 percent mechanically harvested by 2017. Now that is an impressive goal.

It was a very busy Monday and our Tuesday is set to be just as busy. We’re headed to the CME/BMF briefing and a visit to the Brazilian ADM facility in the afternoon (just to name a few things).

Until next time…

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