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Federal University of Itajub UNIFEI

Mechanical Engineering Institute IEM

Excellence Group in Thermal Power and Distributed Generation NEST


MS.c Mateus Henrique Rocha

1st Brazil-U.S. Biofuels Short Course

Providing Interdisciplinary Education in
Biofuels Technology
So Paulo
July-August 2009

Ethanol production through sugar juice or final

molasses fermentation has a serious problem related to
the quantities and high organic content of its main
residue called vinasse or stillage.

For each liter of ethanol, 10-13 liters of vinasse are

produced using conventional technologies.

Ethanol vinasse is a dark, brown colour liquid, of acid

nature, that remains after alcoholic distillation at 107C,
with a smell that goes from astringent to nauseating.

Vinasse is classified as a class II residue, not inert but

not dangerous.

The chemical composition of sugarcane ethanol

vinasse is variable and depends of the wine raw

The wine characteristics depends also of the must

preparation, alcoholic fermentation system, type of
yeast, distillation and flegma separation.

Chemical and physical properties of vinasse

The possible forms of vinasse disposal

Return to the farm, as a partial or total substitution of
mineral nutrients (fertirrigation).
Anaerobic digestion, using methanogenic bacterias, for
the production of biogas, process (anaerobic digestion).
Vinasse concentration by evaporation, for return to
farm as fertilizer.
Vinasse concentration by evaporation for combustion
aiming at energy recovery.


Concrete typical channel

Vinasse application rate (300 m/ha)

Distributed system by truck.

Anaerobic digestion
Anaerobic digestion plant:
Flow = 5.000 m/day
Diameter = 26,0 m
Height = 4,75 m

Jenbacher Generator

Vinasse concentrated at 40%

Vinasse concentration by evaporation for


vinasse at 60%.

Life Cycle Analysis

Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is a technique of
environmental analysis that allows the minimization of
environmental problems.
LCA is a process of evaluation of the environmental
impacts associated with a system of products or
services, that allows the identification and evaluation of
the impacts throughout the life cycle of the product.
Environmental impacts are determined based on the
inputs and outputs of materials and energy in each
phase of the product life cycle, and can be associated
with different categories.

Main stages of a life cycle analysis study

Goal and Scope Definition

Definition of the function,
functional unit and reference flow
Product system establishment
Definition of the allocation procedures
Selection of environmental impacts

To establish the
limits of the study.

Data categorization
Goal and Scope

Quality data requirements


Inventory Analysis

Selection of the peer review process

Impact Assessment

Report definition


Studies supositions and limitations

Inventory Analysis
Goal and scope definition

Preparation for data collection

Data collection

To quantify the inputs and

outputs of a product system.

Data validation

Unit process data

Allocation and recycling

Goal and Scope

Data agreggation



Inventory Analysis

Impact Assessment


Functional unit data

Impact Assessment

Goal and Scope

Data quality analysis

Inventory Analysis

Impact Assessment





Climate change 0.05%

Acidification 0.02%

~ h

Normalization: contribution to
the total impact

Weighting (Single score)

(Non dimensional units)
Giving importance for each
environmental impact
Not to be used without appropriate
Peer review for public purposes

W = i wi hi = wh


Goal and Scope


Inventory Analysis

Impact Assessment


Sensitivity Analysis
Materials selection
Supply chain management
Establish infrastruture for

Case study
The objective of this work is to determine the environmental
impact of disposal vinasse options and to compare them.
Functional unit: 1.0 m of vinasse treated.
System boundary: for inputs on the process the criterion of cut
will be mass flow, or potential of environmental impact of the
Selection of the methods of environmental impact evaluation:
Eco-Indicator 99.
Requirement of the data: the data will be collected through
primary sources (direct sample) or secondary (bibliographical

software: for elaboration of the LCA data of vinasse will be

used SimaPro 7.0 software elaborated by Pre Consultants, a
dutch Company.

Environmental impacts characterization

Environmental impacts characterization

Single score

Single score

Some remarks about LCA tool in cases studies

The application of LCA for the evaluation of environmental impacts related to
vinasse treatment and disposal does not allow for a complete analysis, due to
the uncertainties associated to the leaching and volatilization of the vinasse
applied to the soil as fertilizer.
The presence of ions in vinasse, mainly potassium, phosphorus (phosphate)
and nitrogen compounds (nitrite and nitrate) could cause groundwater
The great obstacle concerning the quantification of this impact is the lack of
reliable information about what actually happens with vinasse components
when applied to the soil.
There are different possibilities in face of real situations: ions can behave as
inert compounds and remain in the ground, to be converted into metabolites by
microorganisms, extracted through roots for sugarcane nutrition, leached,
volatilized to atmosphere, etc. Even when such information is available there is
a great need of specialized scores for the correct evaluation of the related

Some remarks about LCA tool in cases studies

The LCA results evaluation is also difficult due to the high amount of impact
scores proposed in evaluation models, and the existing doubts in relation to
which of them preference must be given. Therefore, at the beginning of the
study, while goal and scope were being defined, the impact evaluation models
must be clearly set, including the categories selection that would be considered,
as well as, the compounds that would be taken into account during impact
Organic fertilizers, such as vinasse, present several advantages in relation to
mineral fertilizers, as they promote nutrient recycling in ecosystems, and cause
less environmental impacts during production. Currently great efforts are being
applied in the research of renewable energy inputs, such as biogas and
concentrated vinasse, which contribute to the GHG reduction and climate
change mitigation.

Some remarks about LCA tool in cases studies

The comparison between these two environmental benefits, that
exclude each other, is a real gap in the ethanol sustainability
evaluation. The cause of this is the existing uncertainties in coproducts allocation and in the evaluation of fertirrigation
secondary impacts. Such gap has not been possible to be fulfilled
using LCA methodology in its current developing stage.
Life cycle inventory and associated energy balance do not allow
for the highlight of the advantages of cogeneration with the
commercialization of surplus electricity, due to the fact that
residues energy potential is quantified using its heating value as
reference. Final impacts evaluation must be carried out in order to
compare alternatives including cogeneration as by-product
allocation method.

Thank you for attention!