Brazil has been a producer of sugar cane since its colonisation, but first started producing ethanol from sugar cane in the late 1920s. Around 1970, with the rise in oil prices, the Brazilian government decided to prioritise the ethanol industry. So, in 1974 it implemented a National Alcohol-based Fuel Program which has proven successful. This required the co-operation of various Brazilian government institutions and Brazil’s NOC (national oil company) Petrobras to provide public subsidies, tax breaks and fixed prices. It was also necessary to instigate legal mandatory blending and create a distribution network to get the fuel produced to gas stations. Furthermore, it required sugarcane planters to commit to increase their production; research centres such as EMBRAPA (the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, a state-owned research company), to develop new technologies to make the plan feasible; the automobile industry to design ethanol-friendly automobiles and later, flex-fuel vehicles; and automobile drivers to purchase the new cars. As a result, by the mid-1980s, most new cars sold in Brazil ran exclusively on ethanol; and today, ethanol accounts for about 40 per cent of the fuel consumed in the country.
However, it has not been all smooth sailing for the Brazilian ethanol industry; in fact, over the last five years the industry has experienced a rough patch. The El Niño and La Niña weather conditions affected sugar cane production, government aid was reduced, and the legal mandatory percentage of blending for the ethanol anhydrous was decreased from E25 to E20. In turn, 2009 and 2011 were difficult years for the industry with a production of approximately 597 million tonnes and 559 million tonnes respectively (according to the International Agriculture Organisation of Brazil). After this drop in production figures, the Brazilian government took steps to prioritise ethanol production again. In 2013, the government re-increased the legal mandatory percentage of blending for the ethanol anhydrous to E25 and started working towards attracting new investment in this field. As a result, it has been estimated that the production of sugar cane will reach 590 million tonnes for the 2015/2016 harvest – 18.6 million tonnes more than the last cycle. It is also expected that the industry will recover and keep growing, not at the rate it started, but rather at a more stable pace of around 3 per cent per year. Current legal mandatory blending in Brazil for gas products is up to a maximum of 27.5 per cent which was adopted in March 2015.
Today, Brazil’s ethanol industry is one of the most advanced in the production of biofuels. In fact, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Brazil is the second largest producer of ethanol worldwide. It operates modern equipment, applies the latest technology trends and uses cheap and residual sugar cane. All of which means Brazil produces a high quality product at a relatively cheap price. Moreover, in 2010, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated Brazilian sugar cane ethanol as an advanced biofuel due to its 61 per cent reduction of total life cycle greenhouse gas emissions, including direct and indirect land use change emissions.
In addition, Brazil recently opened a new generation ethanol facility located in Piracicaba city, in Sao Paulo which will enable a 50 per cent increase in production without having to increase the harvest area. It is estimated that the production capacity of the facility will be 42 million litres of ethanol 2G annually, produced from the bagasse of the sugar cane, with a reduction of 15 times the emissions of carbon dioxide produced in ordinary facilities.
As well as ethanol, Brazil is a major producer of biodiesel. According to the ECLAC it is the fifth largest producer of biodiesel in the world, using soybeans, animal tallow and cotton seed as feedstock. Since 2008, there has been a legal mandatory obligation in Brazil to mix biodiesel in with the diesel sold. Production of biodiesel is regulated by the government through a public auction system which gives preference to producers with a Brazilian Social Fuel Stamp; which in turn, provides incentives for poor family farmers in disadvantaged areas. The Brazilian National Agency of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels reported that as of May 2014, Brazil produced around 21.8 million litres daily, and the Brazilian government predicts that this industry will grow in the next few years.