It has been more than 30 years since Brazil began to make a switch to sugarcane to drive its motoring needs, and today it remains a world leader in the field of ethanol. What was behind that initial switch and where is the country headed in terms of biofuels? To answer these questions, Euronews’ Seamus Kearney spoke to one of Brazil’s leading experts in the field, Luiz Pinguelli Rosa, an energy specialist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
“Ethanol became very important in Brazil after the oil crisis in the 70s,” explained Luiz Pinguelli Rosa. “Brazil was having a hard time importing it, and back then Brazil didn’t produce a significant amount of oil. Also, the prices were very high.
“There were two stages. The first was in 1973 and the second in 1979. In the first stage, ethanol was adopted as a petrol additive. In the second stage, in 79, they started using pure ethanol. Well, it was hydrated, with a little bit of water added, for cars equipped with motors that could run on ethanol. That was when ethanol made its large-scale entrance into Brazil, due to the oil crisis in the 70s.
“The programme was called Pro-Alcohol, a government programme that allowed ethanol to conquer the market and become the national fuel of choice for Brazilian consumers. But nowadays we’re living a different stage.
“On the one hand, petrol in Brazil is relatively cheap; prices are lower than they should be and that creates bigger competition between petrol and ethanol. On the other hand, there are flexible cars, which can run on both ethanol and petrol, and that makes it easier for the role of ethanol.
“Brazil has to decide what’s best for the future, because now there’s been an important oil discovery here, the so-called ‘pre-salt oil’, which is huge. I think Brazil should stick to ethanol, and there’s another reason for that: climate change. The use of ethanol doesn’t damage the atmosphere as much as petrol does. The carbon dioxide emissions are much lower.
“For ethanol to have a future, we have to keep producing flexible cars, and if things move towards the electrical car, the hybrid, we should be able to keep using ethanol. It would be a hybrid car with an ethanol motor and an electrical motor, and also a generator.
“A part from that, I don’t think the ‘pre-salt oil’ discovery can drown or endanger ethanol production.
“We also have to think about second-generation ethanol. Here in our university we have a laboratory to produce other types of material, besides sugar cane, which is still the best way to produce ethanol at the moment.
“And finally, we have to take into consideration correcting the price of petrol. The petrol price is too low in Brazil, compared to international prices.”