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
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.
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.