As the price of fuel rises, many nations are developing
alternatives to petroleum-based products like gasoline. In the United States, much of the gasoline sold is blended
with around 10 percent ethanol, a fuel made from crops such as corn and sugar.
But elsewhere, ethanol plays a much larger role. Brazil is the world's largest
exporter of ethanol and most of its cars run entirely on it. But environmental
groups say ethanol may not be a viable alternative to gasoline. Steve Mort
has more in this week's Searching for Solution report from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Motorists in Brazil fill up
their tanks with ethanol - known here as alcool. It is available at nearly
every fueling station in Brazil and is roughly half the price of gasoline. For
drivers here, using ethanol instead of gasoline makes sense.
"The green fuel as we
call it, the alcool, I -- especially nowadays when we talk about environmental
responsibilities, I think is extremely important to the world," one
Ninety percent of new cars
sold in Brazil can run on alcool.
Brazil is the world's largest exporter of ethanol, and the second
largest producer of it behind the United States.
Sao Paulo-based Dedini
makes equipment used in ethanol distilleries. The company's vice president Jose Luis Oliverio predicts growth in U.S. demand for
bio-fuels, benefiting ethanol-exporting nations such as Brazil.
United States has an objective to blend 10 and then 20 percent of ethanol in
their gasoline,” he said. “This will be a huge amount of ethanol. And that will open opportunities to the
ethanol imported from other countries."
Making and Exporting Ethanol
While Brazilians consume
most of their country's ethanol, about three billion liters is exported
annually. The U.S is the largest importer, despite imposing about two dollars
per liter tariff on Brazilian ethanol. Brazil uses sugar cane to produce
ethanol, while the U.S. mostly uses corn. The U.S. government says domestic
commodity prices mean American-produced sugar cane ethanol is double the price
of corn-based ethanol. The Brazilian sugar industry, however, says its crops
can yield more than twice as much ethanol per hectare as corn can.
Impact on Environment and Food Costs
But environmentalists say
Brazil is using too much land to grow crops, including sugar, threatening rain
forests. Scott Paul from Greenpeace says demand for agricultural land in Brazil
could reverse recent declines in deforestation.
"The dominance of the
agricultural sector is paramount with Lula's government,” Paul said. “And there
is tremendous concern that we're going to see a rollback." Critics claim
the thirst for crop-based ethanol is pushing up food prices. But Brazil's
government disputes that. Economists predict Brazil will produce a record 27
billion liters of ethanol in 2008, and will ship more overseas than ever before.