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Green Chemistry and Agriculture in Brazil

Honored Contributor
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Contributed by Sílvio Vaz, Jr., Research scientist at Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation

Brazil is one of the largest agricultural producer around the world. The country has a diversified biomass production from agriculture based on grains and fruits for human and animal food and agri-industrial feedstocks such as soybean, sugarcane, cotton, etc. Furthermore, Brazil presents significant growth in the international trade of agribusiness, consolidating its position as one of the largest producers and exporters of food to more than 200 countries. These agricultural products and their residues can be considered as a raw material source for a renewable chemistry. However, it needs efforts in science and technology.

We can consider five objectives for R&D&I in the Brazilian agriculture:

  • Ensure competitiveness and sustainability of Brazilian agriculture;
  • Achieve a new competitive technological level in bioproducts, bioenergy and biofuels – here, closely related to green chemistry;
  • Intensify the development of technologies for the sustainable use of biomass and for the productive integration among the Brazilian regions;
  • Biodiversity prospect for the development of differentiated products with high added value for the exploration of new market segments – mainly, by the use of biotechnology;
  • Contribute to the advancement of the frontiers of knowledge and incorporate new technologies, including emerging technologies – e.g., to reduce dependence from agricultural and non-renewable inputs (e.g., fertilizers and pesticides), and to promote the agri-industrial waste usages.

Among the technologies with the greatest potential to influence the development of Brazilian agriculture for a horizon of 20 years, stands out those capable to change the genetic heritage (as nanobiotechnology), technologies for the reduction of environmental risk, the rational use of chemical inputs and consequent increase in economic efficiency, precision agriculture, and technologies for value addition and product diversification - green chemistry is a new trend to be considered in the last case.

On the other hand, the impacts of climate change will mean new behaviors in relation to the subject and there will be more pressure for conservation and the rational management of environmental resources in the production process, including stricter environmental standards. The frontiers of knowledge are constantly shifting, and new technologies are characterized by higher density in scientific knowledge. Thus, in the coming decades, there will be an increase on the complexity in the Brazilian science, technology and innovation, with the spread of highly relevant technologies for agriculture.

Biorefinery and green chemistry are two concepts that focus on sustainable utilization of biomass creating value chains similar to those derived from the oil derivatives, and they can be applied in agriculture and agro-industry promoting a biobased industry. There is a great synergy between them, mainly regarding the minimization of residues and environmental impacts for the creation of a green economy or bioeconomy. Furthermore, they comprise an integrated sustainable system (raw material, process, product and residues) according to technical parameters which take into account, among other aspects, energy and mass balances, life cycle analysis, and the application of practical principles to promote best practices for R&D&I and production processes. In Brazil, efforts have been made to evaluate the economic potential of biomass to support the development of sustainable chemistry. That means agriculture will provide a feedstock for chemistry.

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