Brazil strives to remain among the world's biofuels leaders.
The aim of Brazil's US$46-million bioenergy research programme (BIOEN) is to keep the country at the cutting edge of biofuels research and development — in part by attracting bright young minds.
After the United States, Brazil is the world's largest ethanol producer. Maintaining its position as a biofuels leader will require improved biofuel-processing techniques, says Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, the scientific director of the State of São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), which runs BIOEN. "We need to build a critical mass of top scientists in the fields of plant physiology, bioinformatics and enzymatic hydrolysis to achieve this goal," he says.
BIOEN's projects aim to foster an interdisciplinary approach that enhances biofuels processing at every stage — from plants' photosynthesis to the enzymatic fermentation of sugar cane to create ethanol. The programme will also focus on the social impacts of biofuels production — such as unintended effects on agricultural markets — says Glaucia Souza, BIOEN's biomass programme coordinator.
The funds — from FAPESP, Brazil's National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, the State of Minas Gerais Research Foundation, and Dedini, one of the private companies involved — will promote cooperation between academia and industry.
The Young Investigator Award is the cornerstone of BIOEN, and will fund about 20 scientists' first independent research programmes. Each will receive at least $200,000 for projects lasting up to four years, including an annual salary of $39,000. The monies are intended to help the young researchers to establish laboratories in Brazil — an achievement that will enhance their future employment opportunities.
BIOEN's partner companies are hiring as well, augmenting São Paulo's career opportunities. Bioenergy equipment manufacturer Dedini supports university-based research projects, and is hiring senior researchers and chemical engineers with higher degrees in energy science to help produce ethanol from cellulose. "With BIOEN, we hope to continue improving our hydrolysis efforts to reach the commercial scale," says José Olivério, Dedini's vice-president of research and development.
BIOEN is expected to gain $130 million of investment during the next five years, which should mean additional opportunities for engineers and scientists.