Guest blog: Argentina does not produce biofuels from crops
Jorge Antonio Hilbert, from the Instituto de Ingeniería Rural – Argentina, is a member of the World Biogas Association. In this guest article, Jorge writes about the innovation of Argentina’s agribusiness.
Lately I have been giving many talks in seminars and congresses exposing our experience of more than 10 years evaluating agro-industrial chains of transformation together with the main biorefinery companies in the country.
In the exchange sessions and questions of these events, phrases linked to the impact of crops are often repeated by directly attributing these impacts to the different biofuels we generate. Those questions and my experience in international discussions inspired the title of this article in the search for an attractive headline for journalists and media in order to focus attention.
Because the title, unlike pure energy crops that are often touted as environmentally friendly Argentina does not have large-scale crops dedicated to obtaining energy in its three forms: gaseous, liquid and solid.
In the case of liquid biofuels, co-products of a very well established bioindustry linked to food production are used. Mounted on this logic, real biorefineries were developed that continue to generate new and more valuable products from the same raw material.
I always say that to create a clear image in our interlocutor we must know how to select very carefully the way in which we express ourselves. This also applies in this case where it is very different to talk about soy oil biodiesel or corn starch bioethanol than simply say soy biodiesel and corn bioethanol.
In the first case to our listener is left thinking, if they use only the oil or starch what happens with all the rest. In the second, the mind makes a direct relationship between cultivation and biofuel and if it has preconceptions or concerns about it it will automatically assign that effect to the biofuel in question.
Argentine biofuels are on a very high scale in sustainability achieving emission reductions of more than 70% on the benchmarks of their fossil pairs. Here it deserves to be clarified that unlike biofuels where we measure with magnifying glass every step and process along its entire production and transformation chain fossils are not studied in the same way. It is not the same an oil near the surface as these shale oil or gas, but this is not evident.
Throughout all these years we have followed the important evolution of Argentine biorefineries where processes were optimized, energy efficiency was increased, water use was reduced, and new products were incorporated into the production line.
Incorporating new products impacts on economic sustainability as new revenues are generated based on the same raw material, new added value is generated managing to incorporate high quality employment throughout the country.
Examples include pharmacopoeia glycerin in the case of soybean biorefineries or the production of biogenic carbon dioxide from the fermentation of corn starch. Having more products, the initial impact of the raw material is distributed among more participants of the chain and therefore the numbers improve.
Another example is the integration of technologies and refineries such as biogas and bioethanol plants or the use of biomass in soybean grinding plants. In these cases the use of fossil fuels in transformation processes is drastically reduced and a phenomenon of circularity so promoted in these times is generated. We do it here in Argentina and continue to integrate productions.
We have historically had in Argentina successive historical emergences of biofuels and today the production of biodiesel and bioethanol is entrenched. But new players are preparing as the case of biomethane that promises not only lower emissions but even becomes a biofuel with negative impacts. This means that instead of contributing to emissions you can achieve a balance that makes it possible to fix carbon on the soil.
Our agribusiness and industry are in continuous process of innovation and investment therefore the values we have reached are a floor to continue improving. Let us hope that this message improved the treatment of biofuels in many parts of the world.