Corn ethanol production accelerates in Brazil

Jon Lawson

Global power and automation provider WEG has provided a high efficiency motor, power supply and automation solution to FS Bioenergia, a joint venture between Brazilian agribusiness, Fiagril Participações and Iowa, US-based Summit Agricultural Group, for use in Brazil’s first plant to produce ethanol exclusively from corn.

Located in Lucas do Rio Verde, in the west-central agricultural state of Mato Grosso (Brazil’s main corn-producing region), the R$450 million industrial plant is powered by state-of-the-art technologies – and designed to generate zero waste. To help enable this, WEG has supplied the new plant with its W22 IR3 (Brazil’s equivalent to the EU’s IE3 class) Premium efficiency motors, delivering superior efficiency levels, lower maintenance costs, increased sustainability, and improved productivity and service lifetimes for all equipment. To cope with hazardous conditions in particular plant areas, explosion proof motors, such as W22xd IR3 Premium, have been specified in order to meet Zone 1 and Zone 21 requirements.

While specifying the products, WEG’s technical team worked in partnership with Kansas, US-based ICM, the world's largest corn ethanol engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) company, to ensure the selection of suitable electric motors to drive FS Bioenergia operating equipment. Considering that electric motors and other machinery in the new plant have followed North American design standards, the WEG motors has been mechanically designed to meet NEMA standards, although electrically they have been designed to European IEC standards.

The plant substation power is supplied by 10 MVA dry transformers, while other transformers ranging from 300 kVA, 2,500 kVA and 2,000 kVA are used for other plant processes. For the plant’s cogeneration of energy, a package of electric equipment was installed, including the main plant ST40, 22,500 kVA generator, which works together with certified medium voltage MTW-03 switchgear, control, protection, power import and export panels, all controlled by the automation system designed by WEG engineering.

FS Bioenergia’s corn ethanol operation is a landmark project for Brazil, with immediate advantages and value for the country. The plant will help offset the country’s increasing demand for domestic ethanol, which cannot be met by existing sugarcane ethanol production. With recent record harvests, Mato Grosso’s substantial corn production – both proven and potential – make corn-derived ethanol the most viable option to complement existing sugarcane ethanol production and fulfil the annual multi-billion gallon shortfall. Given that domestic consumption is relatively small, it also provides a use for substantial surplus corn production, which doesn’t have space to be stored in current conditions, and is therefore largely exported. The facility also produces valuable fibre and protein co-products known as dried distillers’ grains (DDGs), which will serve as high-value feed for the expanding Brazilian livestock industry.

The plant’s initial expected production capacity is about 240 million litres of ethanol per year, from its grinding capacity of 530,000 tons of grain per year, in the initial phase – with the possibility of getting to 1 million tons in the second phase (the plant was designed to be duplicated, and ground has now been broken on the second facility). It is expected that each ton of processed corn will produce 420 litres of ethanol, 380 kg of DDGs (animal feeding meal) and 20 kg of crude oil. 

The power supply is generated from biomass, meeting the internal plant consumption requirements and allowing the sale of excess energy production, resulting in additional financial benefit for the company. The expected cogeneration capacity will be approximately 60,000 MWh, enough power supply for a 25,000 inhabitant town.

As an important component of the global energy sector, one of the greatest advantages of biofuel production is that it is an excellent alternative to fossil fuels, with far less negative impact to the environment. Producing ethanol from corn is an alternative method of adding value to the product; the mill can operate 355 days of the year without off-season and produce Ethanol Anhydrous, Hydrated Ethanol and DDGs, which can be used in other agricultural food chains, such as beef and dairy farms, fish farms, pork farms and chicken farms. 

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