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Brazil-U.S. Partnership Aims to Bump Up Ethanol Use
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The governments of Brazil and the United States met last week to discuss a new energy partnership aimed at stimulating ethanol use in Latin America, The Washington Post reported February 7. U.S. officials said the agreement would encourage the sharing of cellulosic and other ethanol technologies between the two countries. The United States also hopes increased biofuel production in Latin America will reduce the power of oil-rich and politically controversial Venezuela in the region.

“It’s clearly in our interests—Brazil’s and the United States’s—that we expand the global market for biofuels, particularly ethanol, and that it become a global commodity of sorts,” said U.S. undersecretary of state R. Nicholas Burns. “Energy has tended to distort the power of some of the states we find to be negative in the world—Venezuela, Iran—and so the more we can diversify our energy sources and depend less on oil, the better off we will be.”

Brazilian industry has the potential to benefit from the partnership as well. “Up to yesterday, we considered the U.S. corn growers our enemies, and they considered us their enemies,” said Eduardo Pereira de Carvalho, president of Brazil’s sugar cane growers union. Experts note that the new alliance may help to resolve a long-standing source of contention between the countries: the United States’ 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on most imported ethanol.

If the U.S. government is successful in encouraging more countries to use and produce ethanol, undersecretary Burns expects biofuel, like oil, to become more of an internationally tradable commodity. Brazil and the United States currently produce 70 percent of the world’s ethanol. Demand for the fuel is expected to spike in the wake of U.S. President George W. Bush’s recent call for a 20 percent reduction in U.S. gasoline consumption by 2017, which would leave some 35 billion gallons (132.5 billion liters) ripe for the alternative fuels market.

More Resources: Biofuels for Transportation: Global Potential and Implications for Sustainable Agriculture and Energy in the 21st Century

Alana Herro writes for Eye on Earth (e²), a service of World Watch Magazine in partnership with the blue moon fund. e² provides a unique perspective on current events, newly released studies, and important global trends.

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There is no long-term point in using biofuels if the methods we use to grow, refine and distribute them lead to no net reduction in CO2. Biofuel production in Brazil (and other tropical countries) is often fraught with problems such as rain-forest clearance to create new farmland.

Please be clear in articles like this one whether the government policy is driven by energy security or climate change criteria. The former won't take account of environmental issues and therefore will eventually discredit biofuels.

Posted by: John Kazer on 15 Feb 07

What is the breakdown between the U.S. and Brazil in terms of individual ethanol production? The post mentions a combined seventy percent. Does that mean that the U.S. produces roughly 35% of the world's ethanol, or is it (I assume) less balanced?

I'm not sure energy security and climate change are mutually exclusive issues. Governments must prioritize, and right now most are focused primarily on the issue of security. Introducing alternative fuels (however harmful to the environment) will alleviate energy security anxiety, allowing governments to focus on the real dangers of climate change.

I know it's a stretch, but it just may be true. People make better decisions when they are not under stress.

But you're right, John, the biofuel industry may find itself like the legend of Cortes' fleet: ships that carry us to a new world, but burned to the waterline once their purpose has been served.

[World Changing readers may, at their leisure, extend this metaphor to include the outright exploitation of the native people and resources of the Western Hemisphere. You could probably go on forever. I just had to make a point somewhere.]

Good post and good comment!

Posted by: David on 15 Feb 07

The Venezuelan government is the only one among big oil producers to be investing heavily in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The infamous subsidies for gasoline are finally set to be removed, something other presidents had feared to do.

From a "worldchanging" perspective, these are just a few of the reasons that we shouldn't let comments like these from the State Dept. pass without criticism.

Posted by: christian on 15 Feb 07

Could it be that the risk of depleting oil resources and the replacing those with biofuels is a greater concern to officials than CO2 emissions?

Posted by: chris adams on 25 Feb 07



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