As further evidence of their commitment to renewable energies, GE and Brazil’s federal energy company, Petrobras, in mid-January celebrated the world’s first use of sugarcane-based ethanol in a gas turbine system to produce electricity on a full commercial scale. The operation, at the Juiz de Fora Power Plant, is a significant milestone for Brazil.

Ethanol derived from sugarcane in Brazil is one of the most efficient biofuels in terms of energy balance and carbon emissions. The benefits of this alternative fuel are substantial: It is a renewable energy source and its combustion reduces atmospheric emissions, especially nitrogen oxide (NOX).

The Juiz de Fora Power Plant is a simple-cycle, natural gas plant with a total capacity of 87 megawatts, located in the south of Minas Gerais state, approximately 180 kilometers (110 miles) north of Rio de Janeiro. The plant has two GE LM6000 gas turbines, one of whose combustors has been modified by GE to enable the use of ethanol, making it dual-fuel (ethanol and natural gas). This enhances the plant’s energy security and reliability by providing a valuable alternative fuel source for the power plant that previously had only one available fuel.

As the world’s second-largest producer of ethanol and the world’s largest exporter, Brazil will benefit from incorporating ethanol into its thermal generation profile because of the abundant fuel supply. The country’s 35-year, large-scale experience in ethanol use is based on efficient agricultural technology for sugarcane cultivation, producing 26.9 billion liters (or approximately 7.3 billion U.S. gallons) in 2008, according to data provided by the federal government.

Flexibility is a key characteristic of GE’s aeroderivative product portfolio. From supporting a wide variety of operating profiles to fast, easy, modular maintenance programs, GE’s aeroderivative gas turbines support the operating needs of its global customers. To better support a rising need for reduced environmental impact and improved plant economics, GE’s aeroderivative team is focused on developing alternative fuel solutions that will further augment the portfolio’s existing performance flexibility.

“GE’s continued investment in research and development of aircraft engines and industrial gas turbines enables the LM aeroderivative gas turbines to lead in technology, performance and operational flexibility while providing value to the customer,” said Darryl L. Wilson, president and CEO, Aeroderivative Gas Turbines, at GE Power & Water. “The LM series has the ability to operate with a variety of fuels and features advanced emission control technologies.”

There will be five months of demonstration runs to validate the use of ethanol as an alternative fuel, as well as to ensure that emissions are within the expected limits. GE is providing the conversion technology, engineering and field support during conversion and commissioning.

“This kind of collaboration demonstrates the exciting developments that can be achieved to provide economic, environmental and local solutions for our customers,” said Wilson. “We want to be a leader when it comes to providing more efficient and reliable power from a variety of fuel sources for our customers and we’ll continue to pursue these types of collaborative opportunities to develop those solutions.”