Methodological and Technological Issues in Technology Transfer

Other reports in this collection

Case Study 8

The Brazilian Fuel Alcohol Programme
Suzana Kahn Ribeiro,
COPPE, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro,

Keywords: Brazil; Technology transfer within the country with the potential of S N and S S transfer, Fuel alcohol;

The energy derived from bio-mass in this case is from a renewable "clean" source. The National Alcohol Programme (PROALCOOL), was launched in Brazil to substitute the motor vehicle fuel (imported) gasoline with locally produced alcohol. This involved cooperation between the Brazilian government, farmers, alcohol producers and the car manufacturers. There is a significant scope for replication in other developing and developed countries.

The programme was launched in November 1975. Its objectives were to guarantee the steady supply of fuel in the country, to substitute a motor vehicle fuel from a renewable energy source for imported gasoline, and to encourage technological development in connection with the production of sugar cane and alcohol.

Until 1979, the first phase of the Programme, alcohol production concentrated on anhydrous alcohol (99.33% ethanol) for blending with gasoline. The second phase, which began with the second oil crisis (1979), focused on hydrated alcohol used in pure form as car fuel.

The first cars run solely on fuel alcohol were produced in 1979. By December 1984, the number of cars run on pure hydrated alcohol reached 1 800 000, i.e., 17% of the country's car fleet. A protocol between the car manufacturers and the Brazilian Federal Government was then signed. Independent and autonomous distilleries, outfitted exclusively for producing alcohol directly from sugar cane syrup were constructed. Since its inauguration in 1975, the programme has yielded positive results, though it has suffered a prolonged crisis since 1989.

Fuel alcohol is a "clean" fuel because alcohol-run vehicles emit less carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and sulphur. Furthermore, as an additive to gasoline, alcohol replaces the hazardous tetraethyl lead used to increase the gasoline octane level. The Brazilian Fuel Alcohol Programme may prove to be an important alternative that helps stabilise the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The energy potential of sugar cane bagasse, if fully used as a substitute for fuel oil, for the use of the production units proper as well as for the larger network, would help bring down CO2 emissions further. The carbon emitted through the combustion of motor fuel is reabsorbed by the sugar cane, rendering net emissions practically to zero.

A possibility for increasing Brazilian alcohol competitiveness is its export for use as an additive to gasoline in developed countries since its cost in Brazil is competitive with the USA and Europe. The export of alcohol is currently hindered by commercial barriers aimed to protect U.S. and European agriculture. Developed countries could finance alcohol production in developing countries at lower cost to CO2 abatement than in developed countries proper. Both sides may find the arrangement advantageous, as this entails the implementation of international commercial relationships and increased employment in the developing countries due to the labour intensive production of sugar cane.

The main obstacle to practical agreements on concrete projects with high potential for large-scale abatement such as fuel alcohol is the mistrust resulting from the historical tradition of zero-sum relations between North and South.

The advantages of fuel alcohol as a renewable energy source posing fewer hazards to the environment and reducing local atmospheric pollution are significant. The major and indisputable contribution of fuel alcohol is its potential for reducing CO2 emissions, considered a key factor in the intensification of the greenhouse effect.

The UN Convention on Climate Change contemplates measures for controlling CO2 emissions in the mid and long term. Reducing the uses of fossil fuels is an important item on the agenda. This, together with considerations on the possible increase in petroleum prices, has prompted European countries and the United States to look seriously into the question of restricting the use of fossil fuels. In this context, Brazil may have a head start in the employment of a "clean" energy source such as fuel alcohol and sugar cane bagasse. In addition to the country's contribution to the transnational efforts for controlling CO2 emissions, Brazil will also benefit from reduced local pollution levels, greater employment and the securing of a national energy source.

Lessons Learned

The following are to be avoided: (1) The transfer of old technologies, even if they are more efficient than the host country's prevalent technology. (2) The transfer of heavy, energy intensive industry. (3) The transfer of credits for low cost emissions abatement now, at the price of high cost abatement in the future. (4) The transaction cost of the additionality issue.

The following are desirable: (1) Global emissions will be lower with technology transfer than without it. (2) The technology will slow the rate of growth in GHG emissions of developing countries. (3) Projects will support national development priorities in the host countries.

Ribeiro, K., 1995: Thesis (D.Sc.). COPPE, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

Other reports in this collection

IPCC Homepage