Brazil to build its first wheat ethanol plant

The announcement has sparked food vs fuel debates
calendar icon 15 July 2022
clock icon 2 minute read

Brazil's largest biofuel producer BSBios will build the country's first big facility that uses wheat to make ethanol, which will increase, not diminish, food supplies, its chief executive said, amid a global discussion on prioritising food over fuel production, reported Reuters.

Whereas wheat-based ethanol plants are common in Europe and Canada, most of Brazil's production comes from sugarcane and more recently from corn.

CEO Erasmo Battistella told Reuters in an interview late on Wednesday BSBios' project underscores his confidence that farmers will expand wheat area and output, reducing dependence on imports and creating an even bigger domestic market for the cereal.

Brazil is forecast to produce a record 9 million-tonne crop this year, with growers sowing the largest area in 32 years.

BSBios' facility should go on-stream in the second half of 2024 in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil's southernmost state and the country's biggest wheat producer.

It will produce 111 million liters (29.3 million gallons) of ethanol in the project's first phase.

Battistella noted his factory will increase food supplies as it will also sell dried distillers grains, a by-product of ethanol production used as livestock feed.

"I don't want any person to look at our company and say: you are taking our daily bread off the table!" he said. "I want them to say: you are helping to increase the supply of meat, milk and eggs and making food cheaper through this project."

The government is also relying on research to boost "tropical wheat" in Brazil's Cerrado biome, considered a new wheat farming frontier.

The Cerrado's hotter and drier weather requires plants to be adapted, and planting wheat there is seen as key for the South American country to become wheat self-sufficient in 10 years, a government goal.

Brazil's wheat yields jumped fivefold to about 3,000 kilos a hectare since the 1970's, according to agriculture research agency Embrapa.

Also, Brazil recently began testing a variety of drought resistant, genetically modified wheat in the Cerrado in partnership with Argentina.

Melanie Epp

Melanie Epp is a freelance agricultural journalist from Ontario, Canada.

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