New production opportunities

Image: Tope A. Asokere


One of our weaknesses is basing development on the production of products that international competition can take

The development of our country took place at random and always based on opportunities born internally, such as the discovery of an ore, or the demand for a prohibited import product, such as vehicles, whose production took place in the 1960s; some opportunities coming from abroad, such as the demand for coffee, soybeans, sugar, iron ore, etc.

What can be concluded from these few examples is that none of this was planned, or the result of a strategic plan based on studies in search of the national vocation. Actions that opportunely worked, such as the industrialization of auto parts, development of digital computers, and other products, are now surpassed by similar European, North American, Chinese, Korean and other products, as these countries can produce them with greater ease, due to its institutional plans and availability of financial resources, killing the opportunities established here. The release of imports of these items also contributed to the dismantling of part of the national industry, with the sale and privatization of large national companies, such as: Metal Leve, Brastemp, Walita, Vale do Rio Doce, Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional.

It can be said that one of our weak points is to base development on the production of products that international competition can take, when the volume of the market developed here proves to be attractive.

An elaborate strategic planning, for example, with the SWAT method, would show the weak points – such as those mentioned; the strengths, already evident to us – such as agriculture; and the threats contained in the industrial success of other countries; and the opportunities – such as those already identified by the success of agriculture, surpassing competitors such as countries that produce soy, corn, cotton, pulp, paper, sugar and others.

Today it is already evident that the national vocation is mineral, agricultural and forestry. The error lies in the myopic view of exporting commodities – their processing becomes urgent, for example, already manufactured metals; agro-industrial products, such as vegetable oil, soybean meal, soap, corn flour, cassava flour, feed for bovine pigs, pets, chocolate, wine, sugar, alcohol, coffee, meat; forest products: paper, cellulose, wood, charcoal, medicines from the extraction of forest essences; petroleum products: gasoline, diesel, lubricating oils, paraffin, plastics. Thus, the export of commodities should be limited to surpluses.



The global demand for food has led to technological development in national agriculture, which is unbeatable in the world, as no country can produce like us, two harvests a year, in some cases even more, as in the area of ​​fruit growing in the river valley. São Francisco, where five grape harvests are harvested in two years. What we lack is an optimization plan in each production sector, with export of products generated in the agroindustry, including goals for job creation, reduction of social inequality and prioritization of environmental preservation. In short, plans and legislation conducive to generating more revenue for the country. In this field, we can develop optimization processes in the production of noble products based on the rational development of Babaçu, which is now handcrafted. In addition to other native palm trees like Vapuruçu.



We have ore deposits of the most desired metals in the world: iron, aluminum, copper, tin, zinc, uranium, among others; we export these ores and also the corresponding metals. Why not export just metals, with the expansion of our industrial park and their respective jobs, thus creating an unbeatable industry and reserved only for those who have, in addition to ore, energy and knowledge?


New opportunities

Center of excellence It cannot be forgotten that the human potential that forms centers of excellence generating business with great opportunities can mention Embraer, already considered the best in the world, and Embrapa, which led the country to break productivity records in agriculture. Petrobras developed oil exploration in deep waters. Be aware of researchers in all universities checking new opportunities.

Charcoal is the best quality chemical reducer for obtaining metals, as it is highly pure – unlike mineral coal which, because it contains elements such as sulfur and others, contaminate the metal obtained. (The use of mineral coal by the steel industry is the great polluter, a national villain). For this reason, I highlight the need for charcoal and I will describe a process that rationalizes its current production and which was developed by professors at USP.

“The plants will be designed to meet the contractor's requirements, according to their needs: “the type of biomass to be charcoaled”; the characteristics of the charcoal to be obtained: mechanical strength, percentage of fixed carbon”; the type of coal: in powder, or in pieces”; “place where the plant will be installed”; among other issues.

This process allows the production of charcoal from any biomass, which does not interfere with food production. As possible biomasses for this production, sugarcane bagasse and also natural plants from Brazil that are currently only exploited through artisanal processes, such as babassu and other palm trees, can be highlighted. To justify this highlight, we remember that the only highly polluting manufacturing process in the country is the steel industry, which uses imported mineral coal. In addition to the environmental pollution that this type of coal produces, it also entails enormous costs for the country: the trade balance bears 674 million dollars a year, at current prices, which are reduced to 50% of the average in the recent past.

Note that the steel produced is of second quality because it contains impurities, as already mentioned. Brazil could only produce green steel as Mannesmann and other smaller industries do – which produce green pig iron, that is, iron obtained from charcoal. One of the important sources of charcoal is eucalyptus wood, which requires extensive plantations of these trees. It should be noted that a eucalyptus forest can be implemented on idle land, or on degraded land, or even on land that is unsuitable for food production, as it is in relief on non-arable land.

An important element to be considered is the observation that a planted forest reduces the greenhouse effect, as growing trees absorb CO2. Native forests play an essential role in preserving the environment – ​​in addition to the rich plant and animal diversity they shelter, they provide rainfall. However, they generate more carbon dioxide than they absorb, in addition to generating methane gas.

Thus, it is concluded that the planting of forests is beneficial in terms of environmental preservation, in addition to maintaining native forests.

The Polytechnic School of USP, in the Department of Materials Engineering, concluded from research that blast furnaces for iron production using charcoal are economically viable, if their design is compatible with the mechanical resistance of charcoal, or that is, with a smaller size than the traditional ones: instead of a large oven, four medium-sized ovens can be used, for example, facilitating their handling and maintenance.

It can be said that the use of charcoal in the production of iron is the national redemption, from the point of view of environmental preservation.


The rational production of charcoal

The production of charcoal in the country is already high at 5,722 million tons in 2018, although limited to the use of firewood as raw material. Its consumption is 4,919 million in industry and basically domestic consumption, industrial use prevailing, mainly in metallurgy, for example, in the reduction of iron, copper, magnesium, or in chemical processes, for example, to obtain activated carbon.

The first motivation I had for studying the production of charcoal was the replacement of oil, during the crisis in the 1970s. oil replacement.

The second motivation was ecological reasons and those related to quality in metallurgical processes.

I can say that the knowledge gained from this study led me to conclusions that are of paramount importance:

– Charcoal is a high purity raw material for the industry, and should not be considered just as energy! To produce energy, firewood is better than coal, having been widely used in the railways and even today, in the ceramics industry;

– The processes used in charcoal production, in Brazil, are restricted to firewood, not suitable for other biomasses.

– Energy losses with these processes are enormous – if these losses were eliminated, the equivalent in oil to the energy obtained would be 33 thousand barrels of oil per day (technical notebook of the Department of Materials Engineering). And this is easy to understand: with the traditional process, to load the kiln it needs to be cold; next, it must be heated, for charcoaling; after charcoaling, it must be cold again to be unloaded.

– The loss of by-products with these processes is also quite considerable: charcoaling generates a cloud of smoke that contains: vegetable tar; combustible gases (methane, hydrogen, carbon monoxide); carbon dioxide; methanol; Acetic Acid. In addition to the fact that these emissions are pollutants, most of what is being wasted has good commercial value, and may be worth even more than the coal produced.

– The charcoaling time: the tests carried out in our research show that, if the smoke generated in the process is not extracted before soaking the material to be charcoaled, the processing time increases significantly. With the extraction of this smoke, in the prototype, we observed that the reduction in charcoaling time was around 90% in relation to the time required by current processes: even the sophisticated French oven Lambiot spends 60 hours per load, while, in the prototype, this time reduced to 6 hours!


Brief history of the project

In the 1980s, we developed tests with charcoal cells that would be loaded with cranes; this phase was abandoned when oil dropped from a price of 50 dollars to 9 dollars per barrel, making it unfeasible to replace oil with biomass.

In the year 2000, the search for products that had the ability to preserve the environment motivated us to return to the search for an ecologically correct solution, not to replace oil, but to feed industrial processes without polluting the environment and with improved product quality. obtained. Thus, we created the process proposed here, which presents high performance and low cost, in addition to giving prestige to the workforce. In this new phase, we assembled several prototypes, reaching the one with 4 retorts that presented the best result. Simultaneously, we studied how to plant, harvest and transport eucalyptus. We tested the monorail that uses the trees and various devices to transport the harvested firewood to the kiln.

Separation towers are instruments developed in Chemistry processes and are easily dimensioned by area engineers. In the first phase of the research, we were able to obtain high-quality products in prototypes of fractional distillation towers: vegetable tar, methanol, acetic acid with 99,9% purity, fuel gases: methane, hydrogen, carbon monoxide, in addition to nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

Based on this entire collection of knowledge for the optimization of the new charcoaling process, it is necessary to set up a pilot plant, which will give us the parameters to obtain the desired products from each type of biomass available.

As in any new process, it is necessary to provide the pilot plant with a whole instrument for measuring parameters, which will be obtained from the manufacture of pilot batches. In these pilot batches, different types of biomass will be used, which will allow knowing the data for the design of the production plants, in which some of these measuring instruments will no longer be necessary.

The pilot plant aims to produce charcoal from any biomass and must be equipped for training and research into the performance of various types of biomass.

This sizing does not include the distillation of pyroligneous acid and the construction of the monorail, since, as described above, the monorail has already been tested and fractional distillation are classic processes already known.

The setting up of this pilot plant will allow the development of new ideas to allow automation of the operation and even the generation of better yields.

The necessary investment, operational cost and sales prices, already estimated, show that the operation of volumes above 10 tons per day offers an economically viable operation.

The pilot plant will allow for the optimization of the operation, bringing accurate data for sizing the ideal size of the standard production plant.

*Nilton Nunes Toledo is a retired professor at the Department of Production Engineering at USP.


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