Thursday, February 02, 2006

Brazil's Biofuel: A Success Story

Brazilians are choosing to pump ethanol into their cars, reducing the country’s dependency on petrol and setting a worldwide example on how to reduce greenhouse emissions from transport.

More than 183 600 “flexi-fuel” cars, which run on petrol or ethanol made from sugar cane, were sold in December in Brazil -- more than 70% of all cars sold there. In total, 33% of all fuel used is now made from sugar.

Cost is the driving factor -- ethanol fuel is 60% of the price of gasoline -- but there is also growing understanding that Brazil is leading the world in the flight from fossil fuels. President Lula da Silva describes Brazil’s use of biodiesel as the country’s “energy revolution”.

One of those spearheading the revolution is Luiz Custodio Martins, president of the Sugar and Alcohol Union in Minas Gerais, Brazil’s second-largest sugar-producing state. He says Brazil’s vast land mass and tropical climate make it ideal for producing sugar cane.

Luis Cortez, a professor at the University of Campinas who has spent 20 years researching biofuels, reels off the reasons behind his country’s growing ethanol empire: “The land, the rain, the climate and experience.” .

Martins predicts that if oil prices remain high, 95% of all new vehicles produced in Brazil will be flexi-fuel by next year. Experts hope exporters will also benefit from ethanol. The country exported two billion litres last year, making it the world’s largest exporter.

But there are some who doubt Brazil will be able to keep up with foreign demand for ethanol -- China and Africa have displayed interest. A recent study by Sâo Paulo’s sugar cane agro-industry union, Unica, indicated that ethanol production would have to increase by 10billion litres by 2010 to keep pace with overseas demand.

Others believe lack of space near the ports and an outdated transport infrastructure will prevent Brazil from fulfilling its potential.

Despite the obstacles, Cortez describes Brazil’s dominance of the ethanol market as a success story. He says: “The developed world should look at how a poor country was able, by means of its own creativity, to give an intelligent answer to the energy problem.” Credit: Guardian

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