|Antonio Bonomi presents the Virtual Sugarcane Biorefinery Program.|
Today it is relatively easy to evaluate the success of a scientific study. One of the forms of accomplishing this is to quantify, by means of computational tools, the number of citations that the published work received. In addition, one can examine the previous studies of the scientists involved in the project. If these professionals have various articles published in the research area of the present work that have been presented in renowned international scientific journals, this is a strong indication that the study in question has been well-developed.
However, when the subject is the development of technologies, the qualification of the technological processes is much more challenging. How does one measure the success of something that does not yet exist? With cases of this type in mind, the Bioethanol Science and Technology Center (CTBE) presented its Program for the Virtual Sugarcane Biorefinery (VSB) at the Workshop that ended last Friday in Campinas, SP.
The VSB is a computational simulation tool projected for the analysis of the economic, social and environmental impacts of new technologies related to the productive cycle of sugarcane. Its elaboration will allow research institutions, governments, research support agencies and companies to define the priorities of their studies, assess the success of the projects executed and plan investments in new technologies based on consistent data generated by the tool.
However, in order for the Virtual Biorefinery to adequately simulate what occurs in the sugar and alcohol sector, the program coordinator, Antonio Bonomi, explains that some care must be taken during its construction. First, the CTBE researchers and partner institutions will have to consult the academic literature and the industrial sector for consolidated data that will serve as a base for the design of a model sugar and ethanol biorefinery (first generation and, in the future, second generation) and cogeneration of electric energy. Once this has been accomplished, the first step will be the creation of mathematical models that seek to optimize the processes of this plant, in such a way as to permit the tool’s users to identify, among other things, which processes will allow the bagasse and sugarcane straw to be used to best industrial advantage. These models will have to be applied and validated by other institutions before their utilization in the VSB can be effectuated.
At the moment in which all of the models are integrated to the computational simulation tool, it will be possible to verify which changes a new technology will bring to the present productive scenario.
Several technological routes must be evaluated by the VSB, coordinated by CTBE. Initially, the project foresees the evaluation of the first and second generation ethanol route, fuels originated by thermochemical and chemical processes related to sugar, alcohol and lignocellulosic material. All routes will consider the industrial and agricultural processes involved.
Modeling and Simulation Network
According to Bonomi, a project as complex as this one cannot be developed exclusively by the CTBE. A network of institutions, which began to be formed at last week’s Workshop, will be necessary in order for the scope of the project to advance beyond the design of the already existing industrial processes.
The final extent of the VSB will be determined by the sub-networks responsible for the tool construction. Bonomi explains that the number of institutions, professionals and hours of work dedicated to the project will indicate if the goals and deadlines proposed by the CTBE for the execution of the project will actually be fulfilled. “The next step in the elaboration of the VSB will be the definition of the Simulation Network’s provisional management committee, which will compose the sub-networks and define the first work meetings. Once we have defined the work plan for each sub-network and what will be done by whom, we will be able to delimit the scope and amplitude of the project as a whole”, states Bonomi.
By the end of 2010, a preliminary operational version of the VSB is expected to be ready, contemplating the routes of conventional and cellulosic ethanol.
In the opinion of Joaquim Seabra, researcher at the Interdisciplinary Center of Energy Planning (NIPE) from Unicamp and a speaker at the CTBE Workshop, one of the key points for the success of the VSB will be the investigation and obtention of entrance data to the homogenous and consistent mathematical models, capable of allowing the comparison among different technologies. Rubens Maciel, also from Unicamp, affirms that the most important step for the construction of such a complex tool as this one has already been taken. “The most difficult thing is exactly the uniting of the innumerable Brazilian competences in this area and committing them to the execution of the project. Once it is defined what each one will have to do, I believe that the Virtual Biorefinery Program has everything to become a success”.