The World Bioenergy Award - a a collaboration between the World Bioenergy Association and World Bioenergy 2012 - was founded two years ago. Dr Couto was its first recipient.
According to Couto, the award has resonated around the world and has made other researchers and companies in Brazil aware of the possibility of cultivating eucalyptus using the methods developed by him and his team.
His method involves cultivating a variety of eucalyptus by planting it relatively densely, and using a short rotation period. The eucalyptus is planted on land that is unsuitable for food production.
Brazil has an estimated 200 million hectares of land suitable for this type of cultivation – without affecting the rain forests. The cultivated biomass can be used to replace large amounts of coal and oil for energy production. The result is reduced fossil carbon emissions and therefore less contribution to climate change.
Spreads important knowledge
“The award’s most important function is to disseminate research results around the world, even outside the circle of researchers in the bioenergy field,” Dr Couto comments.
And he adds that the award has meant that companies even outside the energy sector have become interested in the method, known as Short Rotation Wood Crops (SRWC). They include producers of ethanol, wood chips, pellets, and particleboard. Several of them have now launched their own pilot plantations.
A number of research teams in Brazil are now studying how eucalyptus plantations affect the soil nutrient balance, soil preparation, and whether the same method can be used to cultivate other tree species.
Key future issues in bioenergy
“Our group is currently working to develop new technology to reduce the cost of establishing this type of plantation,” Dr Couto reveals. “Together with machinery manufacturers, we are developing methods of doing one-pass harvesting and chipping.”
The team is also addressing the controversial issue that intensively cultivated eucalyptus is a monoculture, with the associated risks, exploring whether it is possible to use other species and thereby achieve a greater genetic variety, while still keeping the rotation period under four years and maintaining the same energy yield: “In the short term it’s important to develop methods to produce pellets and even torrefied pellets from fast-growing species in order to save land and time,” he says, adding that in the longer term nanotechnology will play an important role also in the bioenergy sector.
The competition for the 2010 World Bioenergy Award was tough, with 90 nominations from around the world. Seven of those made the final shortlist. In addition to Laércio Couto, they included Pentti Hakkila from Finland, Dilip Ranade from India, Ralph Sims from New Zealand, Harry Stokes from the United States, Bernt Svensén from Sweden and John Swaan from Canada.
If you'd like to nominate someone for the award in 2012, click here.