Inside the Mercedes-Benz factory, in São Bernardo do Campo, in the Greater São Paulo, southeastern Brazil, engineer Gilberto Leal and his team work to place on roads trucks that are prepared to consume greater and greater volumes of biodiesel. In the meantime, in Mucuri Valley, in Minas Gerais, truck driver Marco Antônio Teixeira is aware of the information that fueling stations provide as to how to reduce the emission of truck pollutants and makes a point of having biodiesel in the tanks of his vehicles.
Apart from Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen, Teixeira also has Scania trucks. The company has already trained 10,000 drivers regarding lower consumption of diesel and, thus, of emissions.
The work of Brazilians like Leal and Teixeira feeds the sector responsible for taking to its destination 61% of the cargo in the country. trucks and highways are responsible for the majority of the transportation of products and are also considered the great villains of environmental pollution.
In the metropolitan region of São Paulo alone, last year, diesel, the fuel used by trucks, left 398,800 tons of carbon monoxide, 61,400 tons of hydrocarbons, 291,200 tons of nitrogen, 4,100 tons of sulphur and 14,300 tons of particles as traces in the air, according to a study by the Environmental Company of the State of São Paulo (Cetesb).
The transport sector as a whole is the second issuer of carbon in Brazil, losing only to forest fires, according to information supplied by the Ministry of Environment. For this reason, among those who somehow depend on roads to live, there is now a movement to make coexistence between the environment and trucks more peaceful.
“The vehicles have had significant improvement in emissions, which may be considered an advance,” said the technician and analyst at the Ministry of Environment, Marcelo Castro Pereira, regarding initiatives of truck makers to produce vehicles with lower fuel consumption.
The addition of biodiesel to diesel has already shown itself as an alternative to pollute less. In the pumps of fuel stations in Brazil there is already a mixture of 4% biodiesel into regular diesel. The use of 4% has been compulsory since July this year. And truck makers have been trying to run ahead of the market.
Mercedes-Benz, for example, has already informed the market that, since March, its trucks have been tested and prepared to use addition of up to 5%. According to information supplied by Gilberto Leal, the Engine Development Manager at Mercedes-Benz, the company has already also tested the B20, diesel with 20% biodiesel, but has not yet approved it for use. The organization is also working on B100, the use of pure biodiesel.
Tests at Mercedes also show that the addition of 5% biodiesel causes a 10% reduction in emissions of dark particles, which land on surfaces and, when very thin, may be inhaled and affect the health of humans and animals. B20 reduces emissions by 22%, according to Mercedes-Benz, B50 by 36% and B100 by 39%.
Leal believes that the ideal volume of biodiesel added to diesel should be around 30%, as expressive reduction of emissions are not identified in B50 and B100.
The use of biodiesel in Brazil, however, is not progressing as fast as in vehicle makers and is moving alongside the availability of the product, as formation of the productive chain is recent. According to figures disclosed by the National Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuel Agency (ANP), between January and July this year, 808,900 cubic meters of biodiesel were produced.
Soy is the base for 81% of the biodiesel produced in the country. Consumption in the first half of the year reached 621,000 cubic meters. There was growth of 42.7% over the same period in 2008. The consumption of diesel, in turn, dropped 4.8%, from 21.7 million cubic meters to 20.7 million cubic meters.
Actions marrying diesel and environmental conservation are strategic for the country, as all trucks produced in Brazil, according to figures for 2007 disclosed by the Ministry of Environment, are diesel-powered. In the late 1950s, oil-fueled trucks were almost double the fleet of diesel-fueled vehicles, which changed as time went by.
Between the late 1970s and the 1980s, the country even produced ethanol-fueled trucks, but the initiative did not prevail. Today, there are in Brazil, according to figures supplied by the Brazilian Union of truck Drivers, around 2 million trucks and 3.2 million truck drivers.
And in the universe of part of these men of the roads, environmental matters have also become a concern. Some, like Marcos Antônio Teixeira, raised the green flag to save nature. “Due to global warming,” says Teixeira, justifying why he finds the use of biodiesel important and reporting why he became concerned with the reduction of pollution in his trucks over the last two years.
The driver explains that in his region, the Minas Gerais truck Driver Union is developing an action for environmental orientation at fuel stations together with drivers. Teixeira has ten trucks and works in the Mucuri Valley region, transporting from wood to cement and sugar.
Truck driver José Natan Emídio Neto, who also operates in the transportation of products in the state of Minas Gerais and presides the Brazilian Union of truck Drivers, believes that lower emissions of pollutants may favor the health of truck drivers.
He pointed out that at the burials of colleagues it is common to hear the family say that “such-and-such died due to breathing so much smoke”. And he adds that, every day, on the highway, he sees drivers of light vehicles making faces when they come close to a truck, due to the emissions.
Neto, like Teixeira, is also concerned with the environment, but he is critical of biofuel. “It blocks filters,” he said. The problem is explained by specialists in the matter. This takes place, according to the Engine Development Manager at Mercedes-Benz, when the fuel is of dubious origin.
There is also the fact, he clarifies, that biodiesel has a “detergent effect”, cleaning the engine. In this case, when the vehicle does not have adequate maintenance, the fuel may transport dirt into the filters, causing problems. Neto has five Scania and Mercedes-Benz trucks.
Drivers like Neto and Teixeira have around them a series of initiatives on which to find support to reduce the pollution generated by their work. Two years ago, the National Confederation of Transport (CNT) launched a program of environmental preservation for the sector that focuses on trucks.
Among the actions is inspection of vehicle emissions, the fostering of environmental management within transportation organizations and the engagement of sector professionals, like truck drivers, in environmental protection.
The vehicle producers also have actions in this sense. Scania has a program called Master Driver, which guides drivers regarding optimized operation of the vehicle and spending less diesel. A course for the training of drivers was established in 1998 and has already reached 10,000 people since then.
Companies that depend greatly on cargo transport also have their own programs. This is the case with Tetra Pak, a package industry that is working on reduction of the use of fuel. At its factory, in Ponta Grossa, Paraná, the raw materials arrive by train to reduce transportation pollutant emissions.
The conservation of highways also plays a great part in fuel consumption and, thus, in the quality of pollutants released by trucks. “The worse the conditions of the highway, the more fuel is consumed,” said Pereira, at the Ministry of Environment.
The movement of shifting down, and accelerating again, for example, when crossing stretches with holes in them or to go around problems in highways, greatly expands the consumption of trucks. The same takes place in traffic jams. They also cause the vehicle to consume more than necessary.
The technician and specialist at the Ministry of Environment said that one of the alternatives for reduction of pollution in Brazil is investment in other cargo transport means, like railways and waterways, which are cheaper.
Railway transportation answers to around 20% of the cargo transport in the country and waterway transportation, to 13.6%, according to CNT figures.
The investment in highways, he recalled, was the system Brazil found to develop and generate jobs, with the opening of truck producers. Recently ,the Minister of Environment, Carlos Minc, defended that the transport grid in Brazil be rethought for reduction of pollution.