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Brazzil - Economy - August 2003

Brazil: Lula's Useless Refineries

We don't need the new oil refineries promised by President Lula.
In Brazil, we have the biomass and its components: sunshine the whole
year, more land than anyone can think of, and advanced technology
to use in the field. We can substitute the oil with vegetables of all kinds,
which are renewable every six months or even less and are non pollutant.

Carlos Chagas


Announcement from Brazil's Planalto Palace: President Lula is thinking about building not one, but two oil refineries. The first one will be in the Northeast, to be ready sometime before 2008, and the second in Rio de Janeiro, scheduled to open in 2012. Great! Nobody can be against new refineries. They will create jobs in the long term and they will help us reach our self-sufficiency in fossil fuels. After all, oil is the raw-material for refineries. The better they work, the greater the need to extract oil.

Praise is due to Lula, too, because he seems to plan for his successors—or almost. If he runs for reelection in 2006 and wins, Lula will be inaugurating the first of these refineries by the middle of his second term. He won't be able to do the same with the second one, because that would require a third term—something not even our José Genoíno is thinking about. But our current head of state will surely be invited for the 2012 inauguration, and it could well be the beginning of José Dirceu's campaign for reelection (oops, let me shut up).

Festive and glad tidings done with, here is the problem. The administration would be well advised to heed to the most recent book by Governor João Alves, of Sergipe. When he is not doing politics, João Alves, an engineer, dedicates his time to study the energy issue—a topic to which he is committed with body and soul.

Based on numbers collected from all over the world, the governor makes the case that in 25 or 30 years, tops, oil extraction will be an anti-economic activity in the world. That is, searching for oil in ever deeper layers of continents or oceans will be a money-losing endeavor. Barrel prices will be unbearable and impossible to compensate for with the amounts paid by users at the pump, at the cost of the implosion of the industry of the automobile and its eventual substitutes. The economy of the planet would be left in tatters. João Alves' conclusions: it is imperative for humanity to develop energetic alternatives and, in this particular, Brazil is already placed in the pole position for the race.

We have astonished developed countries before, years ago, with the Alcohol Plan. We lived through the absolute success of the plan designed to replace oil with sugar cane as the basis for driving power in transportation. Thanks to a Brazilian scientist, Bautista Vidal, we created and developed a new simple and brilliant idea. Unfortunately, the Alcohol Plan was killed. Who killed it? The oil multinationals, including our own Petrobras. We could not resist the strength of the groups holding power in the world—assisted, for sure, by the greed and incompetence of our rural producers and many technocrats who were active back in the 1980s.

Biggest Energy Potential

The raw statements I made in the above paragraph are not presented as such in João Alves' book, but this is precisely what he means. For him, it's useless to give up or to lament previous failures. Brazil is the most privileged country in the planet in terms of alternative energetic planning and this is not a reference to our huge and still unexplored hydroelectric potential.
We have the biomass and its components: sunshine during the whole year, more land than anyone can think of, and advanced technology to use in the field. Which means that we can substitute the oil that took millions of years getting ready, deep on the bottom of the earth, with vegetables of all kinds, from soybean to mamona (castor-oil plant) and dendê (oilpalm), among many others, which are renewable every six months or even less. The capacity for renewal is not their only advantage, since fuels obtained from the biomass do not pollute, either.

Experiments were conducted in various universities and research centers which demonstrated that the performance of vegetable oils is even better than that of diesel oil in internal combustion engines. Better than gasoline. Even aviation fuel can be produced under better conditions and at lower prices.

The Lula administration would take a huge leap forward if it could encourage the expansion of biomass exploration, and we haven't even mentioned its enormous potential for job generation, the help it would provide for populations to be able to remain in their native rural areas instead of migrating to huge urban centers, and the passport that Brazil would be thus obtaining for its inclusion in the developed world.

What is missing for this monumental turn in the economic axis, both domestically and internationally, to take place? First, courage to face external and internal adversaries. Second, determination to forge ahead. Lastly, the funds—which can be obtained in great part from the expansion of our agricultural borders.

Not a single region in the country, from the Amazon to the Northeast and the cerrado (*), would fail to benefit from such a plan. Alongside Brazil, do we think the European Union, China, Japan and even the United States themselves would manage to find a way to reject to participate in an enterprise that can solve their most pressing problems foreseen for the next 25 or 30 years?

(*) Translator's note: cerrado = vegetation of stunted, twisted trees, growing on cattle-grazing land.


Carlos Chagas writes for the Rio's daily Tribuna da Imprensa and is a representative of the Brazilian Press Association, in Brasília. He welcomes your comments at carloschagas@hotmail.com 

This article appeared originally in Tribuna da Imprensa - http://www.tribuna.inf.br 

Tereza Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator and interpreter based in Dallas. She is an accredited member of the American Translators Association. Contact: terezab@sbcglobal.net




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