50 Countries Discuss in Brazil How to Make Biofuel Without Harming the World

Sugarcane plantation in Brazil Brazil more than pointing out its great capacity for production of biofuels wants to show during the International Conference on Biofuels, which began today, November 17, in São Paulo, that agroenergy is a viable alternative for several countries as complementation of the energy matrix and as an instrument for generation of development.

Debating theme "Biofuels as a driving force of sustainable development", the meeting should bring together representatives of governments of 50 countries, multilateral and academic institutions, companies and organizations in the civil society.

According to the acting director of the Sugarcane Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, José Nilton de Souza Vieira, the event should discuss how biofuels may be inserted into the global economy, especially in the transportation sector.

"We have several experiences [in the area of alternative energies], but the hydrogen fueled engine, for example, is still something very distant and electric vehicles tend to have too short autonomy," said Vieira. In this respect, biofuels become a faster, cheaper and less polluting alternative to be adopted in commercial scale by other countries.

He pointed out, however, that for the expansion of agro energy, it is necessary to have safety, i.e., for the country that decides to use ethanol, for example, to have a guarantee for supply of raw material for the fuel that does not occupy areas turned to the cultivation of foods, nor to invade forests or harm the environment as a whole.

The question of safety should be one of the central points of the conference. According to Vieira, biofuels have not come to replace oil, but to serve as a complementary item in the energy matrix. In this respect, the sustainable use of energy depends greatly on specific conditions in each country.

He mentions countries in Africa, where the sector may be successful. "The local production should allow these countries to have greater offer of energy on the domestic market and generate conditions for development," he pointed out. In Brazil itself the use of biodiesel in replacement of oil diesel is considered a viable alternative to produce electricity for distant communities, especially in the Amazon.

Vieira explained that generators fueled by biofuel are cheaper and affect the forest less than the installation of transmission lines to transport energy from other areas of the country. "This is in the concept of easy access to energy," he said.

According to the agriculture ministry director, there are currently over 100 countries that plant sugarcane, and many of them may be as competitive as Brazil in production of ethanol. The challenge, according to him, is, first of all, to convince the international community that agroenergy is safe in economic and environmental terms; and, in second place, providing access to technology to those interested in developing the sector.

In this respect, the meeting should include international fostering agencies, like the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Organizations like this one, according to Vieira, may help in the organization of an international market, selecting countries with potential for production for implementation of pilot projects and later expansion of the sector.

With this kind of international coordination it will be possible to transform products like ethanol into international commodities, as, even with over 30 years' experience in the large-scale use of alcohol as a fuel, Brazil cannot supply the global demand through transfer of know-how, as within the country itself the search for professionals is very high.

"The matter must be discussed within a global perspective," stated the director at the Ministry, pointing out that there is no way for Brazil alone to organize an international biofuel market.

Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva launched the idea for the conference, during the Assembly General of the United Nations in 2007, when agroenergy suffered intense attack, especially from European countries, being accused for promotion of inflation of global products.

Lula is scheduled to open the event and the Ministry should present a new agricultural zoning plan for sugarcane, as anticipated by ANBA, to show that in the case of Brazil ethanol should present no risk to production of food, nor to the environment.

The study shows that the country has at least 40 million hectares available for the cultivation of sugarcane, without affecting sensitive ecosystems or reserves of any nature, be they natural or indigenous. This is four times more than the area used for plantation of sugarcane today, which is currently around 9 million hectares.

Vieira pointed out that the area on which soy is cultivated in the country is much greater, between 22 million and 23 million hectares, with the culture of the oleaginous plant being more aggressive to the environment than sugarcane. Even if sugarcane advanced into ecosystems considered sensitive, its impact would not be disastrous. The total area of the Amazon, for example, is 360 million hectares. That is, if the whole cultivated area of Brazil were transferred there today, it would only cover 3% of the Amazon territory.

Apart from that, the study shows that the regions with greater aptitude for cultivation of soy, due to characteristics like soil, are the Midwest, the Northeast of Minas Gerais, the West of the state of São Paulo, the West of Bahia, part of Tocantins, the South of Maranhão and Piauí­, areas that are not part of the Amazon.

Thus, according to Vieira, Brazil may expand its agricultural frontier by at least 110 million hectares for the cultivation of other crops and guarantee the production of foods, also without causing great environmental impact, nor compromising cattle raising, as part of the land is currently used for grazing.

And with the current area, Brazil is already the main producer and exporter of sugarcane ethanol, and also competes with the United States for global leadership in the sector, although in the US the fuel is produced from maize.

Production of ethanol in Brazilian is around 27 billion liters, which is enough to supply the whole domestic demand and even generate a surplus for export. That is in a country where the consumption of fuel alcohol this year should exceed that of petrol. According to information supplied by the Ministry, sugarcane answers to 16% of the Brazilian energy matrix, being the second most important item, losing only to oil and its products.

The Brazilian fleet of flexible fueled vehicles, which may be powered by petrol, alcohol or any mixture of the two, is estimated at 6 million units, according to the Ministry. Apart from that, all the petrol used in the country has 25% ethanol mixed in.

The conference should be divided into two parts. The plenary sessions, open to the public, begin today and end on Wednesday. The panels will include five central themes: Biofuels and Energetic Security; Biofuels and Climate Change; Biofuels and Sustainability; Biofuels and Innovation; and Biofuels and the International Market.

In the second part, to take place on Thursday and Friday, the same themes should be discussed, but just by government members. President Lula should also close the event.


Conference site: www.biofuels2008.com/en/index.php




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