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Brazil Biofuel Case Study

Brazil Biofuel Case Study

Brazil BioFuel scheme Case Study - Key takeaways

  • About 46% of Brazil's energy is from renewable energy sources.
  • Brazil is biomass rich, and this biomass is used to manufacture biofuel.
  • Brazil is the largest sugarcane producer in the world, and this crop is used to manufacture the country's main biofuel, ethanol, through microbiological processes.
  • The Brazilian biofuel industry started about 50 years ago, and the country now has a sustainable biofuel industry.
  • Some benefits of the biofuel industry in Brazil are that it reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, creates jobs, increases GDP and improves energy security.

There are so many iconic things about which Brazil can boast. It hosts the mother of all carnivals in Rio de Janeiro; it has the world's largest rainforest, the Amazon, and Pelé, one of the world's greatest footballers of all time, also hails from that country. But, there are other, likely lesser known, facts about which the country should be equally proud. Approximately 46% of Brazil's energy comes from renewable sources, making it one of the least carbon-intensive countries in the world. If you look at electricity alone, 83% is from renewables. A significant proportion of Brazil's renewable energy comes from biofuels produced by biomass. Read on to find out more about biofuel in Brazil.

Brazil biomass potentials

Brazil is rich in biomass which can be used to manufacture biofuel. This is mainly due to its extensive production of plantation crops such as sugarcane. As a result of its large size and the presence of vast savannas, Brazil can increase the production of these crops without risking deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. In fact, the potential area of crop expansion has been estimated at 1,190,000 km2. In addition to agricultural crops, Brazil's biomass potential includes agricultural waste and residues, forestry residue, wood-based industry residue, animal agricultural residue and other types of waste.

Currently, for each crop, about 625 million tonnes of biomass is crushed to produce about 27 billion tonnes of ethanol and 38.7 million tonnes of sugar. It has been estimated that by 2030 more than 2,458 million tonnes of biomass resources will be available, mainly from plantation crops but also resources from forestry systems and agricultural residues. As a result of this massive biomass potential, it is expected that the country will be able to have additional opportunities for further expansion of its biofuel into global trade.

Brazil sugarcane biofuel

Sugarcane has been grown for about 500 years in Brazil, and the country is the largest sugarcane producer in the world.

Brazil Biofuel scheme Case Study an extensive sugarcane plantation in Brazil in Brazil StudySmarterFig. 1 - an extensive sugarcane plantation in Brazil

Sugarcane is used not only to produce sugar but also probably, more importantly, as the primary feedstock in producing the country's biofuel, ethanol. Sugarcane biomass has a high sucrose content, which makes it an excellent source for making ethanol. Ethanol and sugar are produced together, and sugar production has followed the evolution of ethanol production. However, ethanol production has increased more than sugar production. Ethanol from sugarcane is produced either by chemical or microbiological processes. Microbiological processes are the primary processes used in Brazil.

Microbiological processes are those carried out by yeast, although other microorganisms may be used. This process is also called alcoholic and ethanoic fermentation.

While Brazil exports 70% of its sugar, 75% of the ethanol it produces remains within the country. This is because, in Brazilian law, gasoline must be mixed with 27% ethanol to produce a blended fuel. In addition, cars in Brazil can also use 100% ethanol as fuel.

Fun Fact: Sugarcane has been cultivated in Brazil since 1532! Sugar was one of the first commodities the Portuguese settlers exported to Europe.

Brazil biofuel production

The first attempt at biofuel production actually began in the 1930s, with production peaking during World War II (1 September 1939 - 2 September 1945). This is because global supplies of oil were not guaranteed. As a result, it was mandatory to mix ethanol (made from sugarcane) with oil. After the end of World War II, ethanol production declined as cheap gasoline could once again be sourced for fuel.

In 1973, as a result of the global oil crisis, Brazil decided to increase its ethanol production from sugarcane through a biofuel programme. Consequently, the National Ethanol Programme 'Pró-Álcool' (Programa Nacional do Álcool in Portuguese), was launched in November 1975. The ethanol produced in the programme's initial phase was blended with gasoline. Ethanol production grew from 0.6 billion in 1975/1976 to 3.4 billion by 1979/1980.

The 1973 oil crisis was a period of incredibly high oil prices and fuel shortages. It was caused by an oil embargo imposed by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) in response to the United States' support of Israel in the Kippur War. The embargo was eventually lifted in March 1974, but it did result in long-lasting impacts across the globe.

After the second oil crisis in 1979, there was a shift from using ethanol as just an additive to gasoline to using it as fuel for cars. Therefore, the first commercial neat ethanol-powered car was launched that year, and during the 1980s, most cars sold were ethanol-fueled.

At the end of the 1980s, oil prices declined, and sugar prices increased, causing a decrease in ethanol production which caused shortages. The demand for ethanol-powered cars reduced, and the Pró-Álcool programme ended.

In 2003, the flex-fuel technology, where engines run on a mix of ethanol or gasoline, once again expanded ethanol production. By 2011, 83% of all new cars sold in Brazil had flex-fuel technology. In May 2013, the government implemented a policy which provides incentives to increase ethanol production.

Brazil BioFuel scheme Case Study example of a fuel flex car StudySmarterFig. 2 - example of a flex-fuel car in Brazil

Today, Brazil is a global leader in ethanol production- second to only the US. In fact, ethanol production has increased 45 times since 1975, while the price of ethanol has also declined by 70%. Since the country developed its ethanol biofuel programme almost 50 years ago and has most of its cars burning biofuel, it is considered the world's first sustainable biofuel economy.

Brazil Biofuel scheme Case Study Costa Pinta production plant in São Paulo produces both sugar and ethanol fuel StudySmarterFig. 3 - Costa Pinta production plant in São Paulo produces both sugar and ethanol fuel

Brazil biofuel policy

To meet its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, Brazil launched its National Biofuels Policy (RenovaBio) in December 2017 as Federal Law no. 13.576/2017. The policy focuses on increasing the use of biofuels in Brazil and improving energy security while reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In addition, RenovaBio facilitates the predictability of the country's fuel market by ensuring that there is always a consistent energy source. Furthermore, it gives incentives to producers and issues carbon-reducing credits called biofuel Decarbonization Credit (CBIO).

The Paris Agreement is a "legally binding international treaty on climate change"1. It was adopted by 196 countries during COP21 in Paris on 12 December 2015 and came into force on 4 November 2016. The treaty's goal is to cap global warming at less than 2oC (1.5oC is the preferred scenario, although recent studies have shown that this may not be possible) compared to pre-industrial temperatures. The Paris Agreement is a landmark agreement, as it is the first time any such binding treaty has been signed among all countries with the common goal of fighting and adapting to climate change.

Brazil BioFuel scheme case study Celebration of the adoption of the Paris Agreement, 12 December 2015 StudySmarterFig. 3 - the celebration of the adoption of the Paris Agreement, 12 December 2015

Brazil biofuel benefits

The following are some, not all, of the benefits of biofuel production in Brazil:

  1. Adding ethanol instead of lead to gasoline has significantly lowered air pollution as it has lowered carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and sulphur emissions.
  2. Using sugarcane-based ethanol has resulted in a 91% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline. This helps to mitigate global warming.
  3. The production of biofuels has created both direct and indirect employment for many Brazilians, particularly in rural areas.
  4. In addition to creating jobs, the biofuel industry has contributed to increasing the country's GDP.
  5. The production of biofuels has improved Brazil's energy security by contributing to its reduced dependence on externally sourced energy.

Environmental and social concerns and impacts

As you might expect, there are environmental and social impacts that go with biofuel and its production. Let's look at some, but not all, of those impacts.

Environmental concerns and impacts

(Potential) environmental concerns and impacts include:

  • Sugarcane-produced ethanol provides renewable energy and it is less carbon-intensive than oil.
  • Sugarcane-produced ethanol has a lower energy balance than, e.g. fossil fuels.
  • Bioethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline.
  • Bioethanol reduces urban air pollution.
  • While concerns were raised about water overuse and pollution, soil erosion and potential contamination from (excessive) fertiliser use, several studies have shown that the impacts are very limited and, if Brazil continues in this way, it should not become a problem in the future.
  • Other concerns raised were on field burning, a process that happens shortly before harvesting so that the workers are safe from sharp leaves, snakes and other harmful animals, and the ash will fertilise the land. However, fertiliser and natural pesticide advancements make field burning obsolete.
  • Potential deforestation - a well-founded concern as en-masse deforestation happens in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. However, a government-issued decree states that sugarcane growth must be restricted in environmentally sensitive areas. While the Brazilian government does not foresee issues in the near future, this cannot be guaranteed.

Energy balance is the total energy input of the process compared to the energy output (release) from the resulting ethanol fuel burning.

Social concerns and impacts

Social concerns and impacts include:

  • Sugarcane production benefits some of the poorest people by providing above-average minimal wages and formal jobs with benefits.
  • The food vs fuel debate - there are concerns raised that the lucrative business of biofuel production means that this type of land use will become favoured over food production, which could potentially lead to global increased food prices.

References

  1. 1 The Paris Agreement. United Nations Climate Change. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
  2. Fig. 1 - extensive sugarcane plantation in Brazil (https://wordpress.org/openverse/image/18326381-5ca5-4e0a-9547-a70701f3b456) by tulio.soria (https://www.flickr.com/photos/129983729@N07) Licensed by CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/?ref=openverse)
  3. Fig. 2 - example of a flex-fuel car in Brazil (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BSB_Flex_cars_90_09_2008_Gol_Total_Flex_logo_blur.jpg) by Mariordo (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Mariordo) Licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
  4. Fig. 3 - Costa Pinto production plant (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Panorama_Usina_Costa_Pinto_Piracicaba_SAO_10_2008.jpg) by Mariordo (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Mariordo), Licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
  5. Fig. 4 - celebration of the adoption of the Paris Agreement, 12 December 2015 (https://wordpress.org/openverse/image/7de3cc45-fc5a-4f22-b986-909a1570aec2) by UNclimatechange (https://www.flickr.com/photos/32605673@N03) Licensed by CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/?ref=openverse)

Frequently Asked Questions about Brazil Biofuel Case Study

The national biofuel policy was launched in December 2017 to enable Brazil to meet its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement.

Brazil is considered as having the world's first sustainable biofuel economy because it started to produce ethanol as a biofuel about 50 years ago and today the majority of the cars in the country are powered by biofuel. 

Currently, for each sugarcane crop, 625 million tonnes of biomass are used to produce 27 billion tonnes of ethanol and 38.7 million tonnes of sugar. 

About 46% of Brazil's energy is renewable. 

Brazil uses ethanol as biofuel. 

Final Brazil Biofuel Case Study Quiz

Question

What percentage of electricity in Brazil is produced from renewable energy?

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Answer

46%

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Question

Which of the following is NOT included in Brazil's biomass potential?

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Answer

Human waste

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Question

Which crop in Brazil is used to produce ethanol?

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Answer

Bananas

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Question

In which year did the National Ethanol Programme (NEP) commence?

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Answer

1970

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Question

When was RenovaBio launched in Brazil?

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Answer

December 2015

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Question

The National Biofuels Policy was introduced into Brazil to:

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Answer

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions

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Question

The Paris Agreement was adopted in:

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Answer

December 2015

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Question

Which of the following statement is FALSE?

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Answer

The use of biofuels has lowered carbon monoxide emissions

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Question

TRUE or FALSE: Sugar production has increased more than ethanol production in Brazil. 

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Answer

False

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Question

Which of the following statement is TRUE?

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Answer

Brazil is considered the world's 2nd sustainable biofuels industry

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Question

Which statements are TRUE?

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Answer

The first attempt at biofuel production actually began in the 1930s

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Question

Which statements are FALSE?

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Answer

Sugarcane production does not benefit some of the poorest people

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