Call for proposals to mass-produce advanced biofuels
January 13, 2016
By Karina Toledo | Agência FAPESP – Fostering the development of technologies to mass-produce biofuels from lignocellulosic biomass, which is mainly plant waste unfit for human consumption, such as cellulose and lignin, is the aim of a call for proposals issued recently by FAPESP and the European Commission in partnership with Brazil’s National Council for State Research Funding Agencies (CONFAP) and its Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation (MCTI).
To answer questions from Brazilian and European researchers interested in submitting proposals for collaborative projects and to identify potential synergies that may be exploited by research centers, a Brazil-European Union (EU) Workshop on the Coordinated Call for Research in Advanced Lignocellulosic Biofuels was held at FAPESP on December 8, 2015.
Piero Venturi, Head of the Research & Innovation Sector of the EU Delegation to Brazil, explained in his opening remarks that the call for proposals was issued as part of Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Program for Research & Innovation. Launched in 2014, Horizon 2020 has an investment budget of €80 billion for a seven-year period.
“In the first two years of the program, we issued several calls in the area of bioenergy and learned a few lessons. We realized that we have to collaborate more with our international partners,” Venturi said.
“Horizon 2020 is open to researchers from all over the world, and FAPESP has signed an agreement with the EU to fund researchers from São Paulo State who are included in the proposals selected for the program. This is very positive, as it ensures that collaboration between researchers in Europe and São Paulo will continue.”
Eduardo Soriano, Head of Energy Technology & Associated Technologies at MCTI, said in his opening remarks that the joint call is an outstanding opportunity to strengthen the ties between Brazil and the EU and to develop new advanced biofuel technology.
“Biofuel is a good way to cut emissions and produce wealth in Brazil,” Soriano said. “This is the first opportunity, and if the results are positive, we may issue another call.”
Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, FAPESP’s Scientific Director, presented the main guidelines and conditions established for the submission of proposals, which will be received between May 11 and September 8, 2016. He had announced the call on November 17, during an event at FAPESP that also featured a lecture by Carlos Moedas, EU Commissioner for Research, Science & Innovation, about strategic partnerships between Brazil and the EU in open science and innovation.
Brito Cruz noted that proposals should address at least one of the following challenges listed in the call: gasification of bagasse to syngas and production of advanced liquid fuels, including biofuels for aviation; research focused on biomass production logistics and feedstock diversification for advanced biofuels; and development of new fermentation and separation technologies for advanced liquid biofuel production and applied research to increase the energy efficiency of advanced biofuel processes.
“This is a coordinated call for proposals,” he said. “Actually, it consists of two simultaneous calls, one in Europe and another here in Brazil. The EU and Brazilian agencies involved will receive proposals separately, and initially, they will analyze proposals separately. In a second stage, their analysis will converge. Only projects approved by both sides will be funded.”
Proposals submitted by both European and Brazilian teams must also be aligned, with the same start date and the same duration (up to five years). “The two teams must clearly state how the aims of a proposal submitted in Europe relate to the aims of the corresponding proposal submitted in Brazil, and especially how their joint efforts will enable them to achieve better results than would be possible separately,” Brito Cruz explained.
Each proposal submitted in Brazil must have at least three principal investigators, with one from São Paulo State and the others established in different Brazilian states with a research foundation that agreed to support the call. At least one company in Brazil must commit to funding 50% or more of the research on the Brazilian side.
According to Brito Cruz, FAPESP will support the projects under the aegis of its Partnership for Technological Innovation Research Program (PITE).
The European Commission will invest €3 million-€5 million, with a matching amount of investment in research funding from the Brazilian side. Brazilian projects must by co-funded by companies.
“We will prioritize proposals that involve a balanced partnership, not necessarily in monetary terms, owing to the unfavorable exchange rate, but with equivalent research commitments and efforts from both sides,” Brito Cruz said.
Speaking by teleconference from Brussels, Belgium, EC Project Officer Maria Georgiadou said that the focus is on exploiting all sources of biomass for the production of biofuels, including urban solid waste, with the exception of sources fit for human consumption, such as corn starch, sugarcane sucrose and soybean oil.
Applied research is the priority, she added, to develop new technologies from proof of concept and laboratory validation to demonstration and scaling up production.
Many different sources of biomass are available, according to Rubens Maciel Filho, a professor at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) and a member of the steering committee for FAPESP’s Bioenergy Research Program (BIOEN).
“The raw materials of interest are different for Brazil and Europe, so we need processes that are flexible enough to work with a wide array of biomass sources,” he said. “Many of the technologies that can be used have been developed and evaluated at the laboratory scale, which permits relatively tight control. The call for proposals clearly states that we need to advance on various points in order to make solutions technologically feasible on a larger scale.”
For Glaucia Mendes Souza, a professor at the University of São Paulo (USP) and also a member of BIOEN’s steering committee, the call for proposals is relevant to far more than second-generation ethanol from sugarcane bagasse.
“The idea is to develop biofuels for aviation as well as synthesis gas [syngas], which is a substitute for several petrochemicals, including natural gas. Biomass gasification is a technology that doesn’t work on a large scale anywhere in the world so far. That’s one of the bottlenecks we need to address,” she said.