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Russian Scientist Drives Brazilian Biofuel Bonanza

Published: November 1, 2013 (Issue # 1784)



  • Igor Polikarpov
    Photo: For SPT

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Forget oil. The path toward better energy might lie in the humble potato.

Igor Polikarpov, a Russian physicist who has spent nearly 20 years helping build Brazil into a world industry leader in biofuel, says Russia could do with discarded potato peels what Brazil is doing with sugarcane stalks — creating an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuel.

Polikarpov knows what he is talking about. A native of the Volga river city of Ulyanovsk, Polikarpov is at the forefront of Brazil's pioneering drive to use so-called second-generation biofuels that convert waste and other nonedible material into fuel.

The bespectacled scientist, who moved to Brazil during the brain drain of the 1990s, is currently pursuing research to reduce the cost of turning sugarcane stalks into fuel, making the final product cheaper than gasoline.

"My research is not just for Brazil but for the world because the challenges are the same in all countries that already produce cellulosic ethanol, among them the U.S.," Polikarpov said from behind his desk at the Institute of Physics at the University of Sao Paulo, where he has worked as a full professor since 1995.

"Biofuel will become cheaper for the consumer and, therefore, more competitive compared with fossil fuels and even with first-generation biofuel," he said, speaking in fluent Portuguese.

Polikarpov said his main challenge is seeking out a cheaper method of "breaking" the cellulose of the sugarcane stalk.

He hopes one day to see his work embraced by Russia, which he said could have been a world leader in new technologies if it had pursued biofuel research from the World War II era instead of drilling for easy oil riches.

The Soviet Union produced second-generation biofuel on a significant scale during the war, primarily to meet the demands of its military fleet. But the technology, acid hydrolysis, produced relatively little biofuel and was not environmentally friendly.

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Thursday, Apr. 17


Expocenter Eurasia at 13 Ulitsa Kapitan Voronin is the sight of Goods on the Way, a five-day event starting today showcasing the latest in the industrial products industry. Bags, backpacks, swimsuits and much, much more will be available to attendees hoping to update not only their style but their accessories for the upcoming summer.


Friday, Apr. 18


Teachers and students alike shouldn’t miss the opportunity to establish lasting contacts with Russian and foreign institutions during the 21st Education and Career Fair at LenExpo, beginning today and finishing tomorrow. Learn more about education in Russia and connect with your fellow scholars.


The Tromso International Film Festival, Norway’s largest, brings a short festival to St. Petersburg for one day only during Scandinavian Oddities, starting at 7 p.m. today at Rodina Cinema Center. Tickets for the event are 100 rubles ($2.80).


Sunday, Apr. 20


Celebrate Easter at Pavlovsk during the Easter Fair that begins today and continues through next Sunday. Visitors will have the chance to paint Easter eggs and children can take part in games as well as help decorate a tree in honor of Christianity’s holiest day.


Today is one of the final days to see the exhibit Cacti — Children of the Sun at the Peter the Great Botanical Garden. Starting Apr. 17, budding botanists will marvel at the variety and beauty of the desert’s most iconic plant.


Monday, Apr. 21


Improve your grasp of Neruda, Bolano and Marquez at TrueDA’s Beginners Spanish Lesson this evening at their location on the Petrograd Side. An experienced teacher will be on hand to help all attendees better understand the intricacies of the language and improve their accent.


Tuesday, Apr. 22


SPIBA’s Breakfast with the Director event series continues as the association welcomes Andrei Barannikov, general director of SPN Communications, to the Anna Pavlova Hall of the Angleterre Hotel this morning at 9 a.m. Attendees must confirm their participation by Apr. 21.


The AmCham Environment, Health and Safety Committee Meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. this morning in the their St. Petersburg office.