When it comes to sources of bioenergy, ethanol producers in Latin America are realizing that corn is just as sweet as sugarcane. Flex-plants are playing a big role in this development.

The market for corn ethanol in Latin America is growing rapidly and could exceed one billion liters in 2015. Argentina, for example, already produces more ethanol from corn than sugarcane, and half of the ethanol production in Paraguay comes from corn. Along with Brazil, they comprise the most important markets for corn ethanol in Latin America.

”The corn ethanol market in Latin America is a newly established industry and it’s growing fast,” says Novozymes’ William Yassume Yassumoto, Industry Sales Manager for Biofuels in Latin America. “There is an abundance of raw material, and the ethanol produced from corn is currently cheaper compared to sugarcane. So corn ethanol producers are looking at increased profitability and returns.”

The best of both worlds

Sugarcane is still the main raw material for ethanol production in the region, with an expected production of more than 700 million tons in 2015. However, 110 million tons of corn is also expected to be produced this year, and local ethanol producers can see the benefit of using corn as a raw material.

What’s more, pioneering ethanol producers want the best of both worlds. By redesigning the plant structure, it’s possible to retrofit traditional sugarcane-ethanol plants into so called flex-plants that can convert both sugarcane and corn into ethanol. In fact, seven out of the 12 ethanol plants in Paraguay are flex-plants.

“It makes sense for producers to invest in their own production facilities so as to produce ethanol from both corn and sugar,” William explains. “The final product is exactly the same, but using corn in the sugarcane off-season increases profitability – the plant no longer has to shut down when sugarcane is not in season.”

Previously, most of the corn produced in the region was overstocked, with some countries such as Paraguay, exporting the bulk of their corn.

This flex trend is also picking up in Brazil, which has three flex plants and several in progress. Ethanol sales are growing in Brazil and Paraguay partly owing to flex cars that let consumers choose the most convenient fuel – gasoline or ethanol. In Paraguay, 3% of all new cars are flex, while Brazil has a record 88% flex cars.

What do you think? Will plants improve ethanol production yields by looking to corn? Use the comment section below to share your thoughts.

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Anni Nikogosian

I’m a Strategic Communication Specialist in the Corporate Communications team at Novozymes. I’m passionate about writing and using storytelling to engage, inspire and motivate the organization to reach its goals.

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