TodayApril 17, 2022

Brazil and ethanol

Ford’s Governmental Affairs & Public Relations Director, Brazil

According to Rogelio Golfarb, Ford’s Governmental Affairs & Public Relations Director, Brazil uses sugar cane to make ethanol, which it sells as E100 (100% ethanol/0% gasoline) and as E25 (25% ethanol/75% gasoline). The National Alcohol Program was adopted in 1975. In 1975, the world was faced with an international petroleum crisis, which elevated the price of fossil fuels. Brazil was completely dependent on imported fuel, which adversely affected Brazil’s balance of trade and trade deficit.

The Brazilian government adopted the Alcohol Program (Pre Álcool), with two objectives in mind: reduce external dependence on petroleum and produce renewable and environmentally friendly energy. Secondly, to stimulate the implantation of alcohol fuel in the country, also made from sugar cane, in order to provide fuel for an entirely new automobile fleet in the country, powered entirely by alcohol.

Starting in 1975, 25 percent of alcohol was mixed with gasoline throughout the entire country of Brazil. In 1979 almost 5,000 alcohol-powered automobiles and commercial vehicles were manufactured in Brazil. Between 1985 and 1990, around 90% of all automobiles manufactured in Brazil were powered by alcohol.

There were government mandates put into place that reserved diesel use to buses and trucks that were responsible for the majority of cargo and passenger transportation. This fuel distribution profile remains to this day: trucks and buses run on diesel, light vehicles on gasoline (mixed with alcohol; E25), and pure alcohol (E100). E25 is the country’s standard, but the E100 is popular because ethanol is cheap in Brazil. The more ethanol in your fuel mix, the cheaper it will be in Brazil because of the cheap labor, the cost of growing the sugar cane, and the mandates and incentives in Brazil.

In the early 90s, an alcohol shortage in the country resulted in a downturn for ProAlcool. By the year 2000, alcohol cars come back in favor of consumers, who were drawn to the fact that it costs less than gasoline. In 2003, almost 50,000 flex-fuel vehicles were introduced in Brazil. Flex-fuel vehicles (FFV) allow a car to run on gasoline or a percentage of gasoline and alcohol or pure alcohol. In 2004, 328 thousand flex-fuel vehicles (22% market share), were sold, compared with 52 thousand alcohol vehicles ( 4% market share).

Alcohol cars get less energy (miles per gallon) the more alcohol there is in the mix of gasoline and alcohol fuel. With alcohol, however, there is a higher compression ratio. On the E25 it can usually be achieved with just software tweaking, however, on the E100 there needs to be electrical technology such as pistons and cylinder heads as well as tweaking software.

There are advantages to the consumer to switch to alcohol:

Fewer taxes (governmental and road taxes) than gasoline cars.

Lower price (- 43%) for alcohol than gasoline, at the present moment. Historically, alcohol prices have always been between 30% and 40% less than gasoline prices. Currently, a liter of E100 is 71 cents, E25 $1.32 a liter. Golfarb says that Brazils’ sugar cane cellulose is used to generate energy for heating and electricity.

According to a white paper sent by Golfarb, entitled Ethanol-Gasoline Blends and Atmospheric Emissions by Alfred Szwarc, “Ethanol’s contribution to greenhouse gas abatement can be very significant.

Life cycle assessments (LCA), which take into account all effects of the entire chain from fuel production to its use, show that a change from fossil fuels to biofuels could reduce CO2 emissions by a factor of five, provided that a high proportion of renewable energy is used at all stages in the process.

A study conducted on behalf of the São Paulo State Environment Secretariat that evaluated the fuel life-cycle of ethanol in Brazil estimates that the greenhouse gases avoided emission for anhydrous ethanol, which is blended to gasoline, is 2,7 kg CO2 equivalent/liter of ethanol. This finding opens important opportunities for participation in the newborn carbon trade market that will certainly flourish when the Kyoto Protocol and its Clean Development Mechanism come into use.”

Szwarcs’ paper goes on to say that “It is important to note that results of LCA conducted for ethanol production from diverse raw materials can be quite different. Actually, this is the situation when comparing the case of ethanol production from sugar cane in Brazil and ethanol production from corn, cereals, beet, and cellulose elsewhere.

While the Brazilian case is based on intense biomass use to generate energy and extensive recycling of waste products, that ultimately save energy and natural resources (including water), production of ethanol from starchy and cellulose materials requires much more energy to be produced, mostly from fossil sources. The following table compares energy output per energy input for ethanol production from different raw materials and the results indicate clearly the superior energy efficiency and, consequently, environmental performance, of ethanol produced in Brazil.”

Raw Material

Wheat 1.2 (Energy Output)

Corn 1.3/1.8 (Energy Output / Energy Input)

Sugar Beet 1.9 (Energy Output)

Sugar Cane (under Brazilian production conditions) 8.3 (Energy Output)

(It is worthy of note that for gasoline production the energy balance is much lower, in the order of 0.817, which means about ten times less than for Brazilian ethanol.)

Brazil has taken this from a country fuel to an export. According to Jan-Ahke Jonsson, Managing Director, Saab AB, Sweden has a 2020 Sweden Vision. This is a goal to get off the dependence on foreign oil by 2020. In January 2006 12 percent of total sales of cars in Sweden were alternative fuels vehicles, of that 80 percent were ethanol. Sweden charges $1.00 per liter for its ethanol and $1.30 for a liter of gasoline. Swedens’ ethanol is imported from Brazil and produced from cellulose in Northern Sweden.

In December 2005, Brazil and Japan signed an agreement to start exporting ethanol to Japan.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.

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