Sao Paulo: Brazil, South America’s economic heavyweight, could produce enough ethanol to replace 10% of world petrol demand in the next 20 years, according to a recently unveiled project.
News of the renewable energy project comes amid growing concern about greenhouse gases caused by burning fossil fuels that are blamed for global warming.
The Brazilian project, developed with the participation of the government and state-owned oil giant Petrobas, would multiply by 15 times the country’s current production of ethanol from sugarcane.
The ramp-up would push Brazilian ethanol exports to 200 billion litres in the next 20 years, up from the three billion litres currently exported, said Rogerio Cesar Cerqueira Leite, a professor emeritus at Campinas University. Cerqueira Leite presented the project on 9 February to the Sao Paulo State Business Federation.
The project would need investments of up to $10 billion (Rs44,000 crore) a year for the first four or five years, after which the need was expected to diminish. “During the final seven to eight years, the return (on investment) should cover the amounts invested,” Cerqueira Leite said.
He said Brazil could drastically increase ethanol production without destroying the Amazon rainforest or encroaching on farmland. “Brazil has an enormous quantity of available land. We don’t need to go into the Amazon or compete with food growing.”
“The project can be done by occupying a small part of the available land in Brazil, to the exclusion of the virgin forest, the protected areas,” he said.
According to him, only 10% of the available land would be needed. Sugar-cane growing would occupy less than 30 million hectares compared with 5.6 million hectares currently, a size that “isn’t very significant,” he said.
By comparison, soya farming occupies 20 million hectares (49 million acres) and livestock 200 million hectares (494 million acres).
The project was developed from ethanol technologies currently in use in Brazil, without resorting to more sophisticated techniques. “To produce these quantities using hydrolysis would require barely a third of the hectares,” he said.
Under the project, sugarcane would be grown in all regions of Brazil, and local distilleries would be built to produce process it into ethanol.
Underpinning the country’s success has been the mass-marketing since 2003 of hybrid-fuel cars, which consume either pure ethanol or a five-to-one mix of gasoline and ethanol. There are now more than 2.6 million such vehicles in the domestic market.
The project arrives at a time when ethanol demand worldwide is growing as governments and consumers seek ways to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions in the fight against global warming and oil dependency.
US President George W. Bush has set a target of reducing US gasoline consumption by 20 percent in the next decade, particularly by developing non-fossil fuels.
Last week Washington sent a diplomat to Brazil to explore a bilateral alliance on biofuels development, aimed atbuilding a global market inrenewable oil substitutes like ethanol.
The European Union is seeking a 5.75 percent level of biofuels in gasoline sold in the 27-nation bloc by 2010.