Espacios. Vol. 34 (5) 2013. Pág. 4

Technological forecasting: renewable energies generation in Brazil

Previsao tecnológica sobre a generacao de energía renovable no Brasill

Diogo José Horst 1; Winicyus Dihl 2 y Antonio Carlos de Francisco 3

Recibido: 06-12-2012 - Aprobado: 16-02-2013


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This paper presents a technological forecasting about the renewable energy generation in Brazil. We performed a literature review which one identified potential issues regarding to the development, implementation and monitoring of technologies, and trends to areas which use biomass, transportation sector, wind power generation, power plants, distributed generation, among others, as also mentions the ability to research & development of this country. As result, technologies for generating renewable energy are available, but are poorly implemented/improved and/or developed. We identified gaps in the integration between university/company and government regarding the use of these technologies in Brazil delaying the production/generation of these energies, and also in generating patents and contributions to research and development. In the other hand, the country has full potential to generate renewable energy, because it has diversified and self-sufficiency in some areas, such as in the production of ethanol and biodiesel.
Keywords: technological prospective, renewable energy, research & development, Brazil.

Este trabalho apresenta uma previsão tecnológica sobre a geração de energia renovável no Brasil. Foi realizada uma revisão da literatura que se identificou possíveis problemas em relação ao desenvolvimento, implementação e monitoramento de tecnologias e tendências para áreas que utilizam a biomassa, o setor de transporte, geração de energia eólica, usinas de energia, geração distribuída, entre outros, como também menciona a capacidade para pesquisa e desenvolvimento deste país. Como resultado, as tecnologias para geração de energia renovável estão disponíveis, mas são mal implementados / melhorados e / ou desenvolvidos. Foram identificadas lacunas na integração entre universidade / empresa e governo em relação ao uso dessas tecnologias no Brasil, atrasando a produção / geração dessas energias, e também na geração de patentes e contribuições para a pesquisa e desenvolvimento. Por outro lado, o país tem potencial para gerar energia renovável, porque tem diversificado e auto-suficiência em algumas áreas, como na produção de etanol e biodiesel.
Palavras-chave: prospectiva tecnológica, energia renovável, pesquisa e desenvolvimento, o Brasil.

1. Introduction

The energy issues are increasingly vitally demonstrated to all countries. Real proofs of this are the current geopolitical conflicts related to the use of fossil fuels. Many existing technologies over time were still not considered economically viable, but due to enhancements in the current price of oil barrels from U$$ 20 to 60, 70, U$$ 80,…, many technologies have become.

Much of the discussion about the Brazilian energy matrix mainly preaches diversification of sources, particularly for electricity generation. However, this debate is misleading because it is not discussed in isolation about energy sources, but all the conversion technologies and end uses of energy. They allow certain sources to become more competitive than others.

So it has been throughout the history of energy development, from the steam engine to gas turbines, in marine platforms for oil extraction, in the use of internal combustion engines, in wind generators and also through so many other technologies. Technologies that were able to convert primary energy in necessary services with more efficiently, with lower costs, among other factors, thus allowed the gradual replacement of coal by oil and oil by natural gas, for example. Actually are the technologies that compete with each other and not exactly the sources of energy.

Much of the oil consumption is for the petrochemical industry. But it is necessary to invest in biotechnology in an attempt to find materials that eventually replace the articles from the petrochemical fractionation. Actually, it is already possible to produce most of the same products and biodegradable feedstock bases.

Right now, the big challenge is to make the right choices and that they allow preserving future generations contributing to the sustainability of the planet with regard to the use of forms of clean and renewable energy.

Brazil has diversified energy matrices with self-sufficiency in some areas. For example, the country is leading in research & development and production of biodiesel and ethanol.

Scenarios for 2020 indicate that ethanol is a lasting trend, and Brazil is currently recognized as the world´s leader in its production. Energy experts agree that in the next 10 or 20 years, ethanol will be a very important source of energy. And there are many ways to produce ethanol, resulting in the pulp, waste trash, cane sugar, and other biomass.

Moreover, in our country today there are agricultural politics operative, which allows further increase to the importance of the use of ethanol. Another key factor is the investment in genetic research to generate new and modified types of plants to produce more ethanol, with more efficiency and more economically viable.

In 30 or 40 years, solar and hydrogen sources will emerge as important sources of energy. And according to most researchers, the manner of electricity use will also expand and improve.

Inside these contexts, this article deals with a technological foresight on the generation of renewable energy in Brazil, with the currently available technologies, their evolution and the future trends related to this subject, but also demonstrates the country's situation regarding to the capacity of Research & Development (R&D).

2. Technological forecasting

The technological forecasting is the lifting of technologies relations and its support activities for its development so as to attend the expectations and demands of a society. It also can be defined as a systematic means of mapping out future scientific and technological developments can significantly influence the industry, the economy or society as a whole.

Unlike the traditional forecasting activities dedicated to anticipate one suppose future as unique, the foresight exercises are built on the premise that there are many possible futures (Gavigan, 1999).

More precisely in cases where the present actions change the future, such as what occurs with the technological innovation. Future technological advances depends on how complex and unpredictable allocation decisions are taken today by a relatively large number of non-collusive agents (Barros, 2002).

Forecasting national studies has two great accepted virtues: they are relevant to assess the state of the art Science and Technology (S & T), as influencing the technological future of the country from an assessment of present conditions and, second, mobilize more different actors involved in S & T, academics and non-academics to think in a collective and continuous country technological needs and issues.

Due to these characteristics, the national projects know and think about the technological sites, to serve as a mobilizer exercise and tool for the formulation of politics. As mobilizer exercise, it increases the collective knowledge about future technological opportunities, and as a tool, it offers formulators of national planning, and public or private information in large quantity and with good quality (Barros, 2002).

3. Biomass uses

The energy production in the XX century was largely dominated by fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) that still represented in the beginning of the century XXI, about 80% of all energy produced in the world (WEA, 2000).

Currently renewable resources represent about 20% of total energy supply worldwide, and 14% from biomass and 6% from hydro sources. In Brazil, the proportion of the total energy consumed is about 45%, in other words, renewable resources supply almost a half of the energy requirements by the country (SENAI, 2007).

Nonetheless, experts indicates that future projections shows that the importance of biomass will increase a lot, coming to represent in the end of the century XXI from 10 to 20% of all energy used by mankind (Goldemberg, 2009). According to data by the International Energy Agency (IEA) released in Brazil by the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME), in twenty years, 30% of the total energy consumed by humanity will be from bioenergetics matrix (MME, 2010).

Currently there are a large number of technologies for biomass to energy conversions that are suitable for applications in small and large scales. Among them are included gasification, methods of producing heat and power (MHP) for cogeneration, energy recovery from municipal solid wastes, landfill gas, beyond biofuels for the transportation sector (ethanol and biodiesel). Recent interest in biomass energy is obtained and given emphasis on applications that produce liquid fuels for the transport sector (IAC, 2007).

Between all the current available options, ethanol produced from sugar cane is the most commercially successful biomass fuel in production today (Goldemberg, 2007). Ethanol from sugarcane has a positive energy balance and has been benefited through the support of government policies in several countries, including in Brazil, which currently supplies about 40% of the fuel for passenger cars (one third of its total demand of energy for transportation) with ethanol from sugar cane (Goldemberg, 2008).

The most common fuels produced from biomass had as main raw materials: agricultural residues, wood and plants, and municipal waste. The municipal waste, a major problem for the public administration around the world may have turned its potential, because it can be directly converted into fuel for transportation, for industry and houses. It is also worth mentioning that the generation of electricity from biomass has been widely defended as an important alternative for all major countries. National programs began to be developing in order to increase the efficiency of systems for combustion, gasification and pyrolysis of biomass (Balat, 2011). However, in Brazil still lacks a policy for the use of industrial wastes for energy generation.

Considering these aspects, energy industry experts believes that the Brazilian research centers have an important role to play in this scenario of recomposition of the global energy mix. The area of bioenergy tends to grow in large proportions in the coming years (CGEE, 2006). Therefore it is necessary that measures should be taken with regard to the energy sector which uses biomass, as shown in Table 1, according to an adapted technological forecasting performed by the National Industrial Apprenticeship Service - SENAI, (2007):

  • Improvement in technologies for trans-esterification reactions between alcohol and oil for more efficient biodiesel production
  • Improvement in technologies for utilization of residual biomass
  • Using of biochemical methods, enzymatic and acid hydrolysis and fermentations
  • Developments in technologies for agricultural production of biomass energy
  • Genetic improvement on sugar cane varieties for ethanol production
  • Technologies for better production of methanol from biomass
  • Advanced technology for combustion of biomass
  • Technologies for incineration of urban wastes and solid composting
  • Crops for agro-energy in combination with the use of waste from agroforestry for heat and electricity production
  • Synthetic fuels through the production of synthesis gases from biomass
  • Widespread use of biogas in landfills as an energy source
  • Technologies for agricultural production of biomass
  • Technologies for mixed combustion
  • Small gasification set (<100 kW)
  • Widespread use of biogas in landfills as an energy source

Table 1: Measures and improvements for the Brazilian energy sector which uses biomass.

Currently, the biotechnology industry is beginning to investigate more production processes advanced than the current options, such as hydrolysis and ethanol fermentation, use of enzymes for biofuel production, higher carbon fixation by roots, and enhanced recovery of plants crude oil (UK DTI, 2003; IEA, 2006).

Advances in genetic engineering now allow the development of strains with resistance to diseases for crops that are environment viable (degraded soils) which were previously considered unsuitable for crops that require less chemicals and water. New high-level technologies under development include techniques for bioprocessing of lignocellulose that allowed the co-production of fuels and chemicals in bio refineries, including genetic modifications to obtain improved raw materials for biomass and to facilitate the application of process technologies, which could reach 70-90% in energy efficiency conversion (Goldemberg, 2009).

Therefore, the use of biomass for energy generation is interesting enough for the country, especially in the direction of its uses with greater technological content such as electricity generation, and production of steam and fuels for transportation.

The most important factor for reducing the biomass energy costs and for the purposes mentioned, regardless to the technology employed, is a reduction in the cost of the raw materials (including costs of collection and transport).

Today Brazil has the best technology in the world for the deployment, management and exploitation of eucalyptus forests, for example. The national costs are extremely useful and all the national development in the area of pulp and paper offers very competitive conditions for the energy use of planted forests and for the development of technologies based on biomass (Goldemberg, 2009).

On the other hand, data from the National Energy Balance (BEN) indicate that in Brazil, in 2010, biomass participated with 30.1% in the energy matrix, and was the second major source of energy, surpassed only by oil and it’s derivate. Since has occupied the same position between the sources of domestic energy source, accounting for 3.7% of supply. And it was only surpassed by hydroelectricity, which was responsible for producing 77.4% of total supply.

The cost of biomass in the country and the high efficiency of modern systems of electricity generation, especially through the gasification of biomass and use of gas in combined cycles, justify more attention to the development of these technologies in Brazil (Jannuzzi, 2003).

4. Capacity of Research and Depelopment (R&D)

Researchers point out that investment in research and development in Brazilian energy sector are stagnant (Senai, 2005). The focus on R & D institutions are directed to basic research, without coordination with other research institutions and still there´s no integration between industry and university and government (Baumann, 1995).

Even in the perception of experts, there is no culture of generating patents in the Brazilian energy sector. It was also pointed out that the patents procedure and its records is complex and the commercial and scientific objectives are different, further impacting negatively on the number of deposits made (Berndes et al., 2003).

Also is possible to mention the absence of any real economic dimension of energy. The speeches and actions taken are generally guided by the analysis of economic values rather than an understanding of the energy values. The sustainability of the sector demands a change of reference on the analysis of the energy matrices, as well as planning and regionalization of inputs (SENAI, 2007).

The transportation sector in Brazil is still dependent on petroleum derivate, which puts the country in very fragility in terms of environmental sustainability. The electricity sector is well positioned due to hydraulic renewable sources, but there has been a surge in demand, a shortfall in production and an immediate need for distributed generation (Kuwahara et al., 1999; Demirbas et al., 2011).

Today, the concept of a sustainable world is associated with search for forms of development capable of ensuring the needs of the humanity in the present, without jeopardizing the future generations. Within this context, data collected by the Centre for Exploration and Technological Diffusion (SENAI – PR) identified some key technologies to the process as a whole, as can be seen in Table 2, (SENAI, 2006; 2007):

  • Energetic diversification through the use of renewable energy
  • Decentralization of powered distributed systems
  • Clean use of fossil fuels for electricity generation
  • Diversification of energy for the transport sector
  • Storage and transport of energy
  • Energetic efficiency

Table 2: Important aspects for the generation of renewable energy in Brazil.

However it is also necessary to identify the consumption of wood for energy generation in the country, as well as agricultural residues with potential for energy use. According to Jannuzzi (2003) the areas of interest for R & D in biomass may be related: The development of more efficient processes for use of wood energy in the residential sector; the recovery of the gaseous products condensed in the carbonization of wood; improvements in techniques for energy management of forests in marginal agricultural areas for food and other biomass as their own sugarcane, including improving the production of raw materials (genetic improvement, agronomy, equipment, etc.); development of demonstration projects of small gasifiers set (till 1MW) checking its efficiency, costs, environmental impacts, performance and operating conditions in isolated regions of the country; monitoring demonstration activities abroad with large gasifiers set (greater than 10MW); develop and enhance of further studies in biomass gasification, for commercial technologies (cogeneration, direct burning in the paper and pulp and sugarcane) and also an analysis of the use of supplementary fuels (Jannuzzi, 2003).

Although a mapping of energy competencies in the country is still very precarious and is possible to affirm  that in many areas there is already density and competence at international level (JANNUZZI and CARMEIS, 2002). However, it is still necessary to improve collection of information and create new indicators to better assess the technical capacity of the research groups (Jannuzzi et al., 2003).

5. New trends

The possibility of using international technological trends related to energy and logistics for transport must be prioritized in Brazil (CGEE, 2006).

The transportation sector shows a continuous growth, with rates higher than those in industrial or residential, and everything indicates that this growth is likely to continue in coming years (SENAI, 2007).

An energy revolution in this sector can be expected in the coming years driven by the current sector´s situation and its direct influence on environmental quality of cities. Changes must occur due to the emergence of new vehicle propulsion technologies that will reduce harmful effects on the environment, thereby achieving, more efficient fuel use (Chalk, 2003, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY, 2002, 2006, Shaler, 2004). According to U.S.DOE, (2006) the technologies to be accompanied or developed are show in Table 3:

  • Technologies for hydrogen storage in ultra-high pressure tanks, new metallic hydrides, nanotubes and carbon fibers
  • Production of hydrogen from clean and renewable sources and its use in fuel cells vehicles
  • Maturation of electric cars supply (rechargeable batteries) and hybrids
  • Alternative biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel) in transportation systems
  • Employment in the transport of hydrogen as a substitute for petroleum products for internal combustion engines
  • Improvements in the specific cars consumption in the different segments
  • Technologies for economical leading of vehicles
  • Improvements in the efficiency of goods transport
  • Technologies for oil exploration, seismology and geophysics of wells
  • Technologies for enhanced oil recovery
  • Improved quality of petroleum products
  • Technologies of natural gas use
  • Technologies for pollution control and safety in the petroleum industry.

Table 3: Technologies to be accompanied or evolved in the transportation sector

Advances may be performed in the field of distributed generation according trends mentioned by other authors, as shown in Table 4 (SENAI, 2006; Allan et al., 2002; Iwai, 1999; Newell et al., 1999):

  • Technology for distributed solar collectors
  • Electric submerged generators
  • Photo voltaic (PV) modules in civil construction
  • Technologies for utilization of waste energy in thermal processes
  • Fuel cells in distributed generation applications on an industrial scale and cogeneration of heat and electricity
  • Systems based in superconducting rings where the energy is storage in magnetic fields
  • Retrofit of power plants
  • Modern wind systems integrated with storage
  • Technology of agricultural production of "energetic biomass" of submerged electric generators
  • Concentrating photovoltaic systems
  • New systems of cables and insulators for transmission over long distances
  • High-temperature superconductors.

Table 4: Advances in distributed generation

The use of solar energy for heating at low temperatures is done with commercial technologies throughout the world, especially for heating water. It is also used for drying and cooling systems (absorption). The technologies use in the most part flat open or closed solar collectors depending of desired temperature. Brazil had about 1.5 million square meters of solar collectors in 2001. According Jannuzzi et al. (2003) this sector has great potential for expansion in the country and major developments should be made including the following areas:

  • Cost Reduction: manufacturing, materials, quality of automation;
  • Increase the efficiency of conversion: films, paints, insulation, new roof systems;
  • Analysis of components/complete systems;
  • New types of collectors (evacuated tubes, static concentrators);
  • Support engineering projects: software, performance contracts;
  • Evidence in the housing system, pre-heating industry, hotels, schools, etc;
  • Training of professionals.

Although the solar thermal power plant has not large commercial applications, it is recommended to keep studies, especially in the most promising technology start-ups in Europe and in the U.S.A, focusing on materials (optical, working fluids), tracking systems, storage systems thermal and improving acquisition of solarimetric data (direct radiation, especially time series) to regions of higher potential. Works in cooperation with foreign countries should be encouraged and should monitor developments in progress (Jannuzzi; 2003; Macedo, 2003; CGEE, 2002).

Wind power has a considerably different picture of solar energy, as having technological maturity and scale of industrial production. This was the result of significant investments in R & D and a policy of market creating through incentive policies in several countries, especially Germany, Denmark, U.S.A, and more recently in Spain, among others. Today that technology is about to become economically viable to compete with traditional sources of electricity generation, and there is a high wind power potential to be exploited in several countries. There are opportunities and technological improvements identified internationally which should also lead to cost reductions and allow for very ambitious goals for installation of power systems over the next 30 years (Jannuzzi, 2000).

In Brazil, the wind power generation installed capacity is of about 22 MW with the participation of various national groups of universities and foreign groups, especially from Germany and Denmark. The wind energy potential that is being inventoried by some groups in the country shows a significant potential in the country. The National Agency of Electrical Energy (ANEEL), by the year 2002, authorized the construction of several wind farms totaling more than 4 GW of installed power, and most of them are located in the coastal regions of the Brazil - North East. Already including the production of wind turbines in the country. Areas identified for a program of R & D in wind energy are described below (Jannuzzi, 2003; Macedo, 2003):

  • The development of machines for specific situations in Brazil watching the winds regime and efficiency improvement;;
  • Consolidation of data on wind potential;
  • Integration of wind farms to the grid system.

Relative to the energy efficiency, some efforts can be considered, as shown in Table 5, data adapted from SENAI, (2007):

  • Components for better energy-efficient in civil construction;
  • Devices based on power electronics;
  • Technologies for manufacturing and/or equipment for increased energy efficiency;
  • Optimization, regulation and control of industrial processes;
  • Utilization of waste heat;
  • Lighting systems more efficient and self-regulating;
  • Bioclimatic architecture for residential construction;
  • Technologies for more efficient charcoal production;
  • Materials to increase energy efficiency in household appliances;
  • Photovoltaic components for civil construction;
  • Solar systems for heating water;
  • Storage technologies for electric and thermal energy.

Table 5: Advances in energy efficiency

The possibility of obtaining renewable, affordable, safe and effective sources of energy is one of the challenges that humanity is facing. But using biofuels, and forms of energy such as wind, solar, hydro, among others, has ecologically clean sources of energy. However, many groups and research centers in different countries are continuously conducting studies to trends of process improvement and also development of new materials.

These research trends are related to the different processing steps, with the nature of the use of raw materials and use of engineering tools with a focus on integration and optimization of engineering processes, which can provide the ways to develop economically viable technologies and environmentally friendly production of renewable energy.

In addition, an enhancement of the biological processes implies a better utilization of raw materials and also in the reduction process in order to improve performance since the proposed configurations. Achieving this set of goals is a huge challenge to be faced by the interaction between biotechnology, chemistry and engineering to ensure a sustainable energy future.

6. Conclusion

This work demonstrated the state of maturity in which Brazil is when it comes to development /operation of different renewable energy matrices, in particular through the use of biomass energy. In regard to the capacity of Research & Development, it was noted the existence of barriers in the generation of patents and records.

The focus of Brazilian institutions for R & D has been directed to basic research, without coordination with other research institutions. Direct consequence caused by lacks of harmony between universities and companies. And, concomitantly, the activities of ongoing research activities are characterized by dispersed pulverization of resources and lacks of guidance for micro-regional potential. It then becomes necessary to articulate and disseminate the relationship between R & D institutions, industries and government.

About the issue of patent generation, it is clear that there is no culture of creating patents in the Brazilian energy sector. Regarding in the energy issue, there are environmental constraints and conflicts of interest. The current picture is of insufficient energy for the industry to respond to the heating markets.

New trends and opportunities to explore different energy matrices were also presented; highlighting that sustainability presents itself as a platform for new guidelines for research fronts in renewable energy.

Considering the topics discussed, it is possible to infer that Brazil has great potential for using renewable energy sources, and for efficient research/use of these sources through the university/business companies and government needs greater integration.

Therefore, several challenges must be overcome, and it becomes necessary to strengthen the culture of planning but also institutionalize and spread the energy planning of the country, in addition to regular monitoring and energy policy.

Advances in research to be conducted in the areas of energy depend on the path that the country's technological development will follow. From this perspective, it becomes imperative to technological developments by means of surveys and academic research with the support of private companies and institutions.

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1 Universidade Tecnológica Federal do Paraná – (UTFPR) Programa de Pós-graduação em Engenharia de Produção – (PPGEP) E-mail:
2 Universidade Tecnológica Federal do Paraná – (UTFPR) Programa de Pós-graduação em Engenharia de Produção – (PPGEP) E-mail:
3 Universidade Tecnológica Federal do Paraná – (UTFPR) Programa de Pós-graduação em Engenharia de Produção – (PPGEP) E-mail:

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