Following Brazil’s example | AGÊNCIA FAPESP

Specialists affirm that Brazilian ethanol is an example of how industrialized nations can substitute part of their energy grids with renewable energy (photo:Eduardo Cesar)

Following Brazil’s example

September 07, 2011

By Elton Alisson, from Campos do Jordão

Agência FAPESP –
Brazilian ethanol is a good example of how industrialized countries can make biofuels an alternative in substituting part of their energy grids with a source of renewable energy. The evaluation was made by the participants of a round-table discussion on the volume of biofuels that could be produced in the world, held during the first Brazilian Bioenergy Science and Technology Conference (BBEST), held August 14-18 in Campos do Jordão.

According to data presented by Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, scientific director of FAPESP, some 47% of the energy consumed in Brazil today comes from renewable sources, as compared to the global average of 13% and 7.2% in countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Of the total renewable energy used in Brazil, 18% is derived from sugarcane. “This is something very important and leads us to believe that it’s possible for other industrialized nations to get over 25% of their energy from renewable sources,” he said.

Brito Cruz also pointed out an uncommon situation in the State of São Paulo, which is responsible for 34% of Brazil’s GDP: the number of automobiles in relation to the population is comparable to that in countries like France, Spain and Japan.

And the use of sugarcane ethanol by the state’s fleet of vehicles, which consumes 63% of the ethanol produced in the country, made the share of petroleum in the state energy matrix fall from 60% to 33% between 1980 and 2008. 

“This also shows that, in some parts of the world, it is possible to double the share of biofuel in energy grids,” he said.

According to Richard Flavell, scientific director of bioenergy company Ceres, the quantity of bioenergy to be produced in the world in order to partially substitute petroleum in coming years will depend not only on factors like availability of land for crops convertible into fuel, but also the way in which this process is implemented. 

“Meeting this goal will depend on the successful creation of economically viable, stable and sustainable production channels like those that exist in Brazil for sugarcane ethanol production,” he stated.
Flavell also referred to other points such as governmental policy, national and international legislation, making the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to biofuels into a profitable business and the production costs of raw materials as factors that will impact the development of biofuels around the world.

Jeremy Woods, professor at the Imperial College London, listed four fundamental pathways to increasing the supply of biomass. “It will be necessary to increase the growing area for plant crops that can be converted to biofuels on a national and global scale, to increase profits, reduce costs and increase efficiency in production, conversion and the use of biomass, integrating benefits,” he said.

In the opinion of Luiz Carlos Corrêa Carvalho, vice-president of the Brazilian Agribusiness Association (Abag), some of the main challenges for Brazilian ethanol are to bring back the investment cycle to the sector, which was affected by the global economic crisis in 2008, in addition to reducing seasonal issues and price volatility of the fuel and increasing investments in research and development in the sector. 

“This will have important consequences in reducing costs of producing Brazilian ethanol,” he said.

The 1st BBEST received funding from FAPESP, BIOEN-FAPESP, CNPq, Capes, CTBE, UNICA, Braskem, Embraer, BP Biofuels Brazil, Monsanto and Oxiteno.

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