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Development of a multipurpose X-ray fluorescence equipment for direct analysis of sugarcane stalks and organic fertilizers


Approximately 400 sugarcane mills are in operation in Brazil, being 35% of which located in the state of São Paulo. All units have sugarcane quality control laboratories that assess, among other parameters, the total recoverable sugar (ATR) used as a basis for supplier's payment. Also, they carry out analyses of their by-products, such as vinasse, filter cake and ashes used as fertilizers, or to comply with current legislation for their disposal. The determination of the ATR in sugarcane follows a protocol that has several stages and different equipment. Likewise, the analysis of by-products reused as fertilizers, in particular ash, filter cake and vinasse, are carried out through acid digestion and/or dilution of the samples, followed by reading in spectrophotometry equipment. Such procedures require acidic or potentially toxic reagents. In addition to being harmful to the environment, they generate waste that needs treatment for proper disposal. Finally, the methods currently used, unhealthy according to the legislation, demand a significant contribution of labor and equipment, which increases their costs and increases the time to obtain the results. This project aims to develop an equipment to determine the content of POL (% mass/mass of sucrose), Brix (% mass/mass of soluble solids) and fiber directly in the cane stalks, and the simultaneous and rapid quantification of nutrients of interest agronomic in organic fertilizers, using energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (EDXRF). The project aims to reduce/eliminate sample preparation procedures, reduce costs with reagents, labor and gap to obtain results. The activities will start with the performance of preliminary tests to adapt the equipment, along with the development of its operating software and hardware platforms. Simultaneously, the equipment will be taken to two sugar and ethanol production mills and to a fertilizer analysis laboratory to build the database. Subsequently, the stage of data processing and validation of statistical models will be performed. The main assets that will be created throughout the project are EDXRF equipment dedicated to the agribusiness environment and software containing a library capable of transforming the analytical fluorescence signals and X-ray scattering into strategic information for the sugar and alcohol industry. Initially, it was decided to focus on the sugarcane industry due to its economic (2% of GDP) and social (ca. 800 thousand direct jobs) importance. However, the equipment can be adapted and calibrated to determine other variables of agro-industrial interest, such as determining the protein and oil content in soybean, quantifying elements in raw materials used in the ration manufacture or performing nutritional plants diagnosis. It is expected that after the validation of this method, it will be possible to sell one equipment to one of the collaborating productions mills during the development of this project, generating an initial financial contribution to fund the company's next operations. (AU)

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