This month Brazil will inaugurate the use of biodiesel, a mixture of vegetable oils and conventional diesel fuel. Besides stimulating the production of a natural fuel source, the Brazilian Biodiesel Program is aimed at social inclusion.
Since the fuel is composed of oils derived from such crops as castor beans, soybeans, and sunflower seeds, the idea is to include small farmers in their production.
According to Edna Carmélio, an adviser in the Ministry of Agrarian Development (MDA), the Ministry will administer funds for these producers.
Over the next two years the MDA plans to engage 38 thousand families that reside in needy areas and/or agrarian reform settlements in fuel production.
“We are working with the potential bank credit sources ”“ especially the Bank of the Northeast and the Bank of Brazil ”“ for the farmer’s crop to be associated with a purchase guarantee,” the adviser explains.
Although it concurs with the initiative in support of farmers, the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) has a wary view of the benefits.
“What will determine whether the proposal will serve small farmers and settlement residents or whether it will once again serve big agribusiness interests is the way the process is conducted.
“There is a big risk of reproducing models similar to the former Pro-Alcohol program (implanted in the decade of the ‘70’s on behalf of fuel alcohol), which ended up fortifying the large country estates, especially in the Northeast, with a predominance of slave-like labor, the exploitation of labor by capital, and a powerful environmental impact,” Eduardo Corrêa, of the MST’s Production, Cooperation, and Environment area told the Agência Brasil.
Biodiesel is a fuel comprising a mixture of up to 5% vegetable oil ester (a type of fat) with conventional diesel oil derived from petroleum. Castor beans, soybeans, and sunflower seeds are used to extract the vegetable oil.
Besides representing a viable activity for small farmers, production of this fuel is beneficial from an environmental standpoint.
“Vegetable oils, when burned, produce fewer of the gases, such as carbon gas, that change the planet’s climate. The production of other gases formed according to the vegetable species that is being burned still needs to be studied.
“But, in general, the combustion of biodiesel and crude vegetable oils are less polluting than conventional diesel and alter the planet’s climate to a smaller extent,” the coordinator of Greenpeace’s Energy Campaign, Sérgio Dialetachi, explained.
Although Brazil is a big petroleum producer, it still has to import diesel for the country’s trucks and buses. But the addition of a biodiesel mixture can reduce that dependence, says Sergio Dialetachi, who works for Greenpeace. It is also a clean fuel of the future, he adds.
“By adding a 2% mixture of vegetable oils to diesel fuel, Brazil can reverse that situation. The country already produces enough gasoline, naphtha and kerosene to meet domestic demand. The problem is diesel that fuels an enormous fleet of trucks and buses and has to be imported.” explains Dialetachi.
Brazil’s state-run oil giant, Petrobras, has developed technology to produce biodiesel cheaply and efficiently using castor-oil plant which grow easily throughout the country. Biodiesel can also be obtained from soybeans and sunflowers.
A survey in 2002 by the Ministry of Mines and Energy found that 52.4% of transportation fuel used in Brazil was diesel (compared to 25.6% for gasoline and 11.9% for the country’s ethanol fuel made from sugarcane).
As a result, Brazil imports 6 billion liters of diesel annually, 15% of its needs, at a cost of US$1.2 billion each year. The addition of the 2% vegetable oil mixture would save some 800 million liters annually.
Around the World
Dialetachi considers biodiesel a reality in today’s world. He affirmed that countries such as France, Germany, and Italy produce this fuel.
Total production in the European Union amounted to over a million tons in 2002, according to the European Biodiesel Board.
In Brazil some firms are studying the use of biodiesel in passenger vehicles, since no type of technical adaptation will be necessary. According to experts, biodiesel mixed with conventional diesel can be used in any model of engine.
Translator: David Silberstein