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Biohydrocarbons and Beyond

Can you imagine filling up with renewable versions of today’s gasoline, diesel or jet fuel that are made without using any petroleum? That’s the next frontier of sugarcane innovation – biohydrocarbons.


Advanced research is opening up new paths for sugarcane, demonstrating how it can be the source of many more renewable energy products, besides the commonly known ethanol and bioelectricity. This includes renewable diesel, and jet fuel–often referred to as “drop-in fuels” because they can be used in any amount with current engines, fueling stations and pipelines. Sugarcane-based biochemical are also developed to be used as ingredients in the production of products of everyday life such as lubricants, cosmetics and detergents.


Advanced biohydrocarbons are substantially similar to conventional hydrocarbon fuels such as gasoline, diesel or jet-fuels but are produced from biomass feedstocks. They are clean, low-carbon and renewable like ethanol, but don’t require engine changes or additional infrastructure. Because they have the same energy content as fossil fuels, biohydrocarbons can reduce dependency on gasoline and increase environmental benefits.


Brazil is pioneering the development of renewable fuels from sugarcane that could replace traditional gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. This demonstrates that Brazilian sugarcane industry is serious about the environment and is taking active steps to develop the fuels of the future.  Here are some recent examples of work involving UNICA’s members:


The California based company Amyris works with Brazilian sugar and ethanol producers to produce Amyris fuels and chemicals. In 2010, Amyris and Sao Martinho created a joint-venture, SMA Indústria Química S.A., to build the first facility in Brazil fully dedicated to the production of Amyris renewable products. Amyris has also entered into a manufacturing agreement with Paraíso Bioenergia, under which Amyris will construct fermentation and separation capacity using sugarcane supplied by Paraíso.

Sugarcane Diesel is used daily by approximately 400 public transit buses in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the country’s largest cities.

To date, these buses have logged over 30 million kilometers with a blend of Amyris Renewable Diesel. Tests carried out by Mercedes-Benz and MAN in Brazil show a significant reduction in the emissions of particulate matter (PM) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) with as little as 10% blends of  Renewable Diesel in standard low sulfur diesel.

Brazilian regional jet manufacturer Embraer works alongside engine manufacturer General Electric (GE) and Amyris, which together with Brazilian airline Azul staged the first-ever sugarcane fuelled jet flight just prior to the UN’s Rio+20 Conference held in 2012. The innovative renewable jet fuel produced from Brazilian sugarcane, which had been produced by Amyris  in partnership with the Brazilian sugar and ethanol producer São Martinho, required no modification to the aircraft. This fuel reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 82 percent and is due to be available in the domestic market within a couple of years. Produced on an industrial scale, it has the potential to replace approximately 20 percent of the jet fuel produced from fossil fuels that are used annually by Brazil.

Sugarcane is also a key feedstock being analysed for its potential for commercial jet fuel production, in an effort led by aircraft manufacturer Boeing, which recently expanded its presence in Brazil and established biofuels for aviation as one of its priorities in the country.


Solazyme is a California based biotech company which has developed a platform to create renewable oils by increasing the production of oil by microalgae. This renewable oil serves as raw material for a wide range of products such as diesel and jet fuel as well as it is used in the food and cosmetics industries.

In April 2012 the firm formed a joint venture with the multinational agribusiness company Bunge to produce renewable oil and take a step toward large-scale fuel production. Under the name Solazyme Bunge Produtos Renováveis Ltda. the joint venture will begin operations in the second half of 2013. The production facility adjacent to Bunge’s Moema sugarcane mill in Brazil will have an expected annual production capacity of 100,000 metric tons of oil. The facility will utilize Solazyme’s renewable tailored oil production technology, coupled with Bunge’s sugarcane supply and processing capabilities, to produce sustainable tailored triglyceride oils for use in oleochemical and fuel applications in the Brazilian domestic market.

Once commercialized at large-scale, biohydrocarbons and biochemicals have the potential to significantly contribute to future global environmental goals.