Bioware was taken over by Biogeoenergy and became part of the Geoterra group, which manages the Aliança equity investment fund (image: Bioware)

Biomass conversion to substitute renewables for fossil fuels

14 de janeiro de 2020

By Eduardo Geraque | FAPESP Innovative R&D – Having developed technologies for the conversion of biomass and other waste since 2002, Bioware, a company based in Campinas, São Paulo State (Brazil), is preparing to expand into new markets.

One of the technologies developed by Bioware, for example, enables manufacturers to fuel their boilers and furnaces with renewables produced by pyrolysis, which involves processing feedstocks such as eucalyptus and urban garbage by chemical decomposition at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen. “However, they have to be convinced above all that the switch will result in proven economic gains,” says Juan Perez, a partner in the firm.

Initially, Bioware sold research services that focused on the development of new products using rapid biomass pyrolysis and other solutions to meet specific needs, such as for the pyrolysis of plastics or solid waste. Later, pilot units and equipment were created for the evaluation of thermal processes and laboratory-scale thermal conversion systems for universities, research institutions and companies. In the third phase, the business model focuses on the end consumers of the products made using Bioware’s technology. This stage calls for investments in industrial testing to demonstrate and verify the technical, economic and environmental results.

“The use of Bioware’s technology over time cuts costs by about 20% compared with the cost of using fossil fuels,” Perez says.

The technology developed by Bioware can also be used by garbage collection companies to manage waste in terms of reverse logistics. The waste can be sterilized by heat treatment and then converted into fuel and other inputs.

In addition to solid waste and biomass, Bioware’s machines can also be fed various kinds of plastic or bone meal, an organic fertilizer, as feedstocks for the chemical process.

These technologies can basically be divided into three groups considering the main product types they are used to make. Liquid standardized biomass (LSB) replaces low-pour-point oil, diesel and other fuel oils derived from petroleum as an industrial furnace fuel. High-performance coal (HPC) is used by the steel industry. Biodegradable organic acid (BOA) is an option for producers of insecticides, insect repellents and herbicides as a substitute for glyphosate.

Each of these groups leads to a new set of compounds with a range of applications. “Bioware specializes in creating new production chains for conversion products with potential market value,” Perez stresses.

Renewable alternatives

The firm is currently upscaling operations to help customers include renewable alternatives in their routines, especially in steelmaking and other industries that use fuels and chemical feedstocks, Perez explains.

Since its inception 18 years ago, Bioware has been supported by FAPESP’s Innovative Research in Small Business Program (PIPE). In the first project, approved in 2002, the firm developed technology for the production of bio-oil, a renewable fuel designed to act as a substitute for diesel oil or fuel oil in power production. Bio-oil is produced by the rapid pyrolysis of crop waste, which in addition to fuel can also be used to make asphalt, waterproofing materials and carbon fiber.

In the second PIPE project, approved in 2004, the firm created a system to produce torrefied briquettes. In the third project, approved in 2009, the briquetting technology was refined to use specific types of biomass, such as sugarcane bagasse.

In 2019, the firm was taken over by Biogeoenergy and became part of the Geoterra group, who manages the Aliança multi-strategy equity investment fund, which owns one of Brazil’s largest capital goods production complexes, located in Araraquara, São Paulo State.

Bioware is also supported by PIPE-FAPESP for a research project conducted with the aim of testing the technical feasibility of converting plastics by pyrolysis into standardized hydrocarbon fuels.

Market potential

According to Perez, cost is not the only important factor for large companies that are potential customers of Bioware. “The standardization of the fuel quality, guaranteed large-scale supply and suitability for existing low-cost systems are key requirements in this market when companies opt to use renewable fuels and inputs,” he says.

In one of its more recent PIPE projects, approved in 2018, Bioware developed a pilot pyrolysis unit to produce fuel bio-oil from eucalyptus waste as well as other byproducts for use as fuel and inputs in the production chain of Nexa Resources, a global mining and nonferrous metals company that resulted from the merger of Brazil’s Votorantim Metais with Peru’s Milpo.

“We’re talking about a market in Brazil worth BRL 100 billion a year in fossil fuels for thermal power plants and boilers,” Perez says, estimating the capacity of the domestic market for green fuels and chemical feedstocks to be 12,850 pyrolysis units in the electricity and steel industries and for companies that use boilers in general.

The typical plant developed by the firm includes reactors with the capacity to convert 2,000-4,000 kilograms per hour (kg/h) of biomass or waste and a system for the fractionated condensation of pyrolysis vapors. As primary products, the unit delivers 20% organic acid, 35% fuel bio-oil, 20% pyrolysis gas and 15% coke powder.

Company: Bioware
Address: Rua Uirapuru, 185 | Jd. São Gonçalo, Campinas/SP, CEP 13082-706, Brazil
Tel: +55 19 3579-8802 / +55 19 3579-9423