Ethanol as an Alternate Fuel in Brazil
Brazil is the world’s second largest producer of ethanol fuel, and until 2010, the world’s largest exporter. Together, Brazil and the United States lead the industrial production of ethanol fuel, accounting together for 87.8 percent of the world’s production in 2010, and 87.1 percent in 2011. In 2011 Brazil produced 21.1 billion liters (5.57 billion U.S. liquid gallons), representing 24.9 percent of the world’s total ethanol used as fuel.
Brazil is considered to have the world’s first sustainable biofuels economy and the biofuel industry leader, a policy model for other countries; and its sugarcane ethanol “the most successful alternative fuel to date.” However, some authors consider that the successful Brazilian ethanol model is sustainable only in Brazil due to its advanced agri-industrial technology and its enormous amount of arable land available; while according to other authors it is a solution only for some countries in the tropical zone of Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa.
Brazil’s 37-year-old ethanol fuel program is based on the most efficient agricultural technology for sugarcane cultivation in the world, uses modern equipment and cheap sugar cane as feedstock, the residual cane-waste (bagasse) is used to produce heat and power, which results in a very competitive price and also in a high energy balance (output energy/input energy), which varies from 8.3 for average conditions to 10.2 for best practice production. In 2010, the U.S. EPA designated Brazilian sugarcane ethanol as an advanced biofuel due to its 61% reduction of total life cycle greenhouse gas emissions, including direct indirect land use change emissions.
There are no longer any light vehicles in Brazil running on pure gasoline. Since 1976 the government made it mandatory to blend anhydrous ethanol with gasoline, fluctuating between 10% to 22%. and requiring just a minor adjustment on regular gasoline engines. In 1993 the mandatory blend was fixed by law at 22% anhydrous ethanol (E22) by volume in the entire country, but with leeway to the Executive to set different percentages of ethanol within pre-established boundaries. In 2003 these limits were set at a minimum of 20% and a maximum of 25%. Since July 1, 2007 the mandatory blend is 25% of anhydrous ethanol and 75% gasoline or E25 blend. The lower limit was reduced to 18% in April 2011 due to recurring ethanol supply shortages and high prices that take place between harvest seasons.
The Brazilian car manufacturing industry developed flexible-fuel vehicles that can run on any proportion of gasoline (E20-E25 blend) and hydrous ethanol (E100). Introduced in the market in 2003, flex vehicles became a commercial success, reaching a record 92.3% share of all new cars and light vehicle sales for 2009. By December 2009 they represented 39% of Brazil’s registered Otto cycle light motor vehicle fleet, and the cumulative production of flexfuel cars and light commercial vehicles reached the milestone of 10 million vehicles in March 2010, and 15.3 million units by March 2012. By mid 2010 there were 70 flex models available in the market manufactured from 11 major carmakers.
The success of “flex” vehicles, together with the mandatory E25 blend throughout the country, allowed ethanol fuel consumption in the country to achieve a 50% market share of the gasoline-powered fleet in February 2008. In terms of energy equivalent, sugarcane ethanol represented 17.6% of the country’s total energy consumption by the transport sector in 2008.