Ethanol reduces fuel imports and pollution - 3 Nov, 2010




Biofuels and blended fuels provide a viable alternative to regular gasoline and help to reduce emissions and air pollution as well as dependence on fuel imports. Brazil has been a leader in promoting ethanol. It has produced ethanol from locally grown sugarcane for a number of years and ensured widespread use and economic viability by requiring every fuel sold in the country to contain 20-25% ethanol. This has lead to increased fuel security and a significant reduction in CO2 emissions. Brazil's ethanol programme has been so successful that almost 40% of vehicle fuel used in the country is Brazilian ethanol.


The idea: 

Ethanol is a clean-burning, high-octane fuel that is produced from sources such as corn or sugarcane. While high ethanol fuels require engine modification and 'flexible-fuel' vehicles, a blended fuel mix of 5-30% ethanol (known as gasohol) can be used in any car. Adding ethanol to normal gasoline reduces the fuel's cost, increases its octane rating, and helps to reduce dependency on foreign fuel as well as air pollution and CO2 emissions.

Brazil provides the most striking and graphic example of the potential of ethanol. Brazil began the production of fuel alcohol as a way to decrease its energy vulnerability and save foreign currency in 1975, two years after the oil shock. A diversification program for the sugar industry was created with large public and private investments supported by the World Bank. The government provided subsidies, attractive credits and loans to encourage farmers to plant more sugarcane, and to encourage the construction of distilleries. Infrastructure was also developed to distribute ethanol to thousands of pumping stations around the country. Brazil ceased to provide ethanol subsidies in the mid 1990s, but with oil prices reaching record heights, ethanol currently costs only a fraction of the price of gasoline. It has been estimated that Brazil?s savings from avoided fuel imports since to programme's inception exceeds $52 billion - many times the total investment in the programme. Where it once imported 80% of its crude oil from outside, Brazil is now expected to be self-sufficient in just a few years time.

Low prices on gasohol compared to petrol prodded manufacturers to produce flexible-fuel vehicles. Virtually all vehicles produced in Brazil are now flexible-fuel. Every filling station in the country offers both pure ethanol and blended fuel with 85% ethanol, and all other fuels available contain at least 25% ethanol. Making high ethanol fuels widely and easily available to motorists is vital if blended-fuels and flexible fuel vehicles are to have a significant impact. Today 40% of all fuel pumped in Brazil is ethanol, and the country has considerably reduced its C02 emissions and other pollutants as a result. The ethanol programme has also created more than a million jobs in the country.

Such large-scale local production of ethanol may not be viable in smaller and more industrialized states, but there is still much to learn. Brazil has aggressively pushed biofuel as an alternative to pure gasoline, and continues to reap the economic and environmental benefits.