The Egyptian minister of Petroleum, Sameh Fahmi, is in Brazil to attend the International Conference on Biofuels, scheduled to continue until next Friday in the city of São Paulo. In an interview given before he left Cairo, he stated that he wants to get to know the Brazilian initiative better and believes that, in case it does not contradict Egyptian objections regarding production of biofuels from food, then the Brazilian experience might be applied in Egypt.
Brazil has been making large-scale use of ethanol made from sugarcane for more than three decades now and, at the same time, food production in the country has grown immensely. Approximately half the cane crop is used for manufacturing alcohol fuel, and the other half turns to sugar.
The new agricultural zoning conducted by the Brazilian government shows that there are some 40 million hectares available in the country for new cane fields, with no need for taking over food crops or environmental preservation areas.
The thesis that biofuel production harms food farming, which has been propagated since last year, especially by European countries, was one of the reasons that led the Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to promote the conference.
It will allow for Brazil to prove, by reporting its own experience, that agroenergy does not necessarily compete with food production. On the contrary, depending on the country, the sector may constitute a guarantee of energy security and lead to development.
During his visit, Fahmi is also willing to meet with representatives of Brazilian biofuel sector companies and of the country's state-owned oil company Petrobras, so as to present the opportunity of concessions for deepwater oil drilling in the Mediterranean Sea. Below is the interview:
At a time when relations between Brazil and Egypt are progressing fast in all areas, how do you envision the perspectives for cooperation in the energy sector?
I believe that this trip to Brazil, my first trip ever to a Latin American country, is going to show us how we may work. Of course, we have many ideas in mind and a work strategy in place. We are closely following the developments taking place in the country, and we regard it as one of the important emerging countries with which we want to strengthen our contacts.
What are the main objectives of your trip to Brazil?
The main goal is to participate in the International Conference on Biofuels. Some of our representatives are already participating in it from the start, and we are also represented by a high-level group presided over by the president at EChem, Hani Solimane, which is our leading company in the petrochemical sector. I myself should attend the ministerial meeting, which is going to tackle the issues of the future and of cooperation in the biofuels sector, on the 20th and 21st.
Nowadays, everyone knows that Brazil is promoting the use of biofuels as a source of alternate energy that is at once sustainable and clean. How is this effort being regarded in Egypt?
As a matter of fact, we have a few questions concerning some of the contents of that effort, because we believe that foodstuffs must not be used for energy production. We have nothing against producing energy from plants that are not edible, such as sugarcane bagasse, for example. In Egypt, we believe that food should not be wasted, because we believe that the world is coming to a greater crisis in the foodstuff sector. That is why I think that the energy crisis cannot be solved through the creation of a food crisis.
However, we are paying close attention to some of these ideas and even starting a few projects that include, for instance, production of biofuels from getrova. The getrova is a non-edible plant that can be cultivated in the desert and irrigated with reused water. Thus, as our fertile lands and water resources are relatively limited, our strategy is to develop getrova farming in the desert and irrigate it using water that cannot be used elsewhere. We want to put the food issue aside and focus on the farming of plants that do not require the use of fresh water.
In fact, the Brazilian effort is often confused with that of the United States, where biofuels are produced from maize. That is not the case with Brazil, where the idea is to produce ethanol using sugarcane bagasse… If that is really the case, then we have nothing against it.
We are traveling to Brazil in order to better understand the Brazilian project. We want to grasp the philosophy behind that effort and become more familiar with the technology used in the country. In case the Brazilian effort proves favorable to our needs and resources, then we are going to cooperate in this area and try to apply the Brazilian idea, in the future, to our projects here in Egypt.
Nowadays, issues pertaining to energy and the environment have often been approached together, as if they were two sides of the same coin. The concern over how to develop energy sources that are at once clean and sustainable is being discussed in Egypt…
Yes, that is true. But we cannot occupy ourselves with environmental issues that will lead to a great food crisis or even hunger in our country. The direct relation between the Brazilian biofuels initiative and the rising food prices worldwide was a rumor launched early this year. Now, however, the facts prove that there is no such relation…
Anyway, we are going to have an opportunity to better understand the Brazilian project during the conference in São Paulo. During my visit, I should also meet with the heads at some Brazilian companies, so that they will talk about their experiences, and then we are going to look at the possibility of cooperating in the future, especially in matters such as transfer of know-how and technology linked to biofuel production.
In what way could Brazil and Egypt cooperate in this particular sector?
We might bring the Brazilian technology to Egypt by establishing partnerships between Brazilian and Egyptian companies in the sector, as well as provide opportunities to companies interested in sugarcane and ethanol production here in Egypt.
You are also going to meet with representatives of Petrobras. What points do you intend to approach during the meeting?
Petrobras is a very well known and respected company worldwide and here in Egypt. Its technology is very advanced and is very similar to our production needs. In Brazil, the company has been carrying out deepwater oil drilling, and here in Egypt, we believe that we are going to drill for oil and natural gas in the Mediterranean Sea in the future.
In order to do so, we are going to need very similar technologies to those that are now being used in Brazil. In fact, many of the drills that we are using right now come directly from Brazil. What we want is to advise Petrobras to accept some oil drilling concessions here in Egypt. We have some great opportunities in the sector around here, and if they came to Egypt we would benefit by obtaining the highly advanced technology that they use, most of all in deepwater drilling.