Brazil biodiesel project to serve family farms

By Erin Voegele | January 05, 2011

Brazilian energy company Companhia Paranaense de Energia, or Copel, recently announced it is developing a small-scale biodiesel plant in São Jorge d'Oeste, Brazil. The project, which includes a research component, will include the installation of a biodiesel processing unit that will serve local family farms.

An agreement establishing the project was signed at Copel’s headquarters in late December. The agreement establishes the role of 10 partners that are participating in the project. The plant will have a production capacity of 5,000 liters (1,320 gallons) per day. If operated seven days a week, this equates to a production capacity of approximately 480,000 gallons per year. A separate facility planned to be located adjacent to the biodiesel plant will process waste materials into animal feed and other products.

Copel is the lead organization developing the project, and will be in charge of purchasing and installing the biodiesel plant. According to Francisco J. A. de Oliveira, Copel’s Renewable Energies Official, Copel has two primary goals in leading the project. First, the company is seeking to learn more about the biodiesel industry and create new opportunities to diversify its business and energy sources. Second, the company aims to create a profitable business enterprise that benefits local farming communities.

Although the project is relatively small in scale, Oliveira said it is a complex one. This is partly due to the participation of small-scale family farmers, who have few financial resources and are not able to take significant investment risks. “There are a number of challenges—all of them completely new activities—for these [farm] cooperatives and their associates, which are the production, quality control, distribution and biodiesel self-consumption of biodiesel production, distribution and consumption of animal ration, trade relations with the market, creation and operation of internal control systems,” he continued. “Nevertheless, there are other important activities for Copel related to the full knowledge of this technology so the company may choose in its future entry into the main biodiesel Brazilian market.”

The primary feedstock for the planned facility will be soybeans. However, the plant will also be capable of processing other locally-grown oilseed crops. According to Oliveira, research is already underway to determine the feasibility of processing sunflower, canola, jatropha, crambe and forage radish in the facility. The municipality of São Jorge d'Oeste will develop the adjacent waste processing facility, which will produce animal feed and other coproducts the biodiesel process.

The project has been developed specifically to benefit the local farming community. Copel estimates that approximately 2,500 local farm families, or about 10,000 people, will benefit due to the project. According to Copel President Raul Munhoz Neto, the project will help provide local farmers will additional income. It will also give them access to biodiesel for use in farm equipment while providing feed for animals, he continued.

Nearly 80 percent of the farms in the São Jorge d'Oeste region are estimated to be small family operations. According to Copel, many are dedicated to the production of poultry, swine and dairy products. Several cooperatives serving the family farming sector are also partnering on the project. They will provide the feedstock for the plant and have access to the resulting biodiesel and meal, cake, lecithin and solvent byproducts.

Orlando Pessuti, governor of Paraná State, noted that the hope is this business model can be replicated in other regions of Brazil. The country’s Secretary of Agriculture and Supply Chandoha Erikson also said the project designed to challenge researchers to develop methods to more fully exploit the biodiesel feedstock and byproduct materials. While the project has experienced some initial delays, Oliveira said the plant is currently expected to be operational before the end of 2011.

Organizations that are currently part of the project include Copel, the Department of Agriculture and Supply, the Department of Science, Technology and Higher Education, the City of St. George d’ West, Dairy Cooperative System of Family Agriculture, the Cooperative System of Family Farming and Integrated Marketing, and Coasul Copperativa Agroindustrial. 


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