In the world today, Brazil is the one country that has already taken major steps to greatly reduce their dependence on foreign oil. During the 1973 oil crisis, the Brazilian Government at the time decided to implement their “National Alcohol Program”, better known in Brazil as “Proalcool”. It was in essence a plan to create an ethanol production infrastructure for the country’s automobiles.
Today, 8 out of 10 cars on the road in Brazil run on ethanol. Some run on 100% ethanol. This brilliant program set the stage for ethanol to fulfill the promise of energy independence and freedom from reliance on fossil fuels for the Brazilian people.
The United States is the largest producer of Ethanol producing about 35% of the world’s ethanol. Brazil is a close second producing about 32 to 33% of the world’s ethanol. In America, Ethanol is derived from the distillation of sugar that is obtained from corn. In Brazil, ethanol is derived from the sugar cane plant. Sugar cane grows all year round in Brazil. The ethanol derived from sugar cane provides 8 times the energy that was used to make it. Also, the waste material after the sugar is extracted from the cane is used as energy for power plants.
Ethanol burns cleaner than regular gasoline because of the extra oxygen in its chemical makeup. Because ethanol is distilled from a plant, it emits no harmful toxic emissions such as carbon monoxide. The CO2 that is released into the air when ethanol is burned is absorbed by the original plant or biomass (such as the sugar cane plant) that the ethanol was extracted from to begin with, making ethanol a carbon-neutral fuel.
Brazil is poised to greatly surpass the United States in ethanol production worldwide. The road that led to this energy paradigm shift was not so smooth though. In the beginning, the government was subsidizing sugar cane growers. But as soon as oil prices dropped in the early 80’s, the government stopped subsidizing sugar cane growers and many of them went out of business. Demand for ethanol had dropped.
Brazil has managed to achieve a 50% replacement of petroleum by ethanol. Also, 80% of all of Brazil’s car fleet is flex-fuel capable. They can run on 100% gasoline or any combination of ethanol/gas mix such as E10, E25, or E85. Brazil is on the road to total oil replacement by ethanol, a notion that doesn’t sit well with the national oil company in Brazil; Petrobras. The present sugar cane cultivated area in Brazil dedicated to ethanol production is about 7.4 million acres. It constitutes about 1% of the total arable land. In Brazil, there has been an increase of about 3% a year in ethanol production without having to add to the arable land with more sugar cane plantations. This is due to the refining of extraction technology and the derivation of higher yielding sugar cane plants. It wouldn’t be hard for Brazil to achieve 100% replacement in the very near future.
By SilasCamargo from Pixabay