The Brazilian government wants to demystify much of what has been said about biofuels around the world, especially ethanol. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his ministers have emphatically championed the Brazilian alcohol production chain in visits to other countries and at international forums.
In order to take a step further, the government is going to promote a global conference on the subject in São Paulo next November, counting on the participation of specialists and authorities from all over the world.
"Biofuels have become a favorite subject of the international press. Thus, we are witnessing an increasingly heated debate about a theme that is very natural to us, because we grew up with it," said the head of the Energy Department at the Brazilian Foreign Office (Itamaraty), Rodrigo Corrêa do Lago, one of the organizers of the event.
If the subject is natural for the Brazilians, who have been making large-scale use of ethanol as a fuel for over 30 years now, the same does not hold true for other countries. According to Lago, even among specialists, there is lack of knowledge regarding the subject, which became evident after the sector gained international attention.
"When we discuss the theme outside Brazil, lots of people are perplexed because they do not possess basic information about it," stated the diplomat. "They think, for instance, that it is difficult to mix ethanol into gasoline. In Japan, for example, we heard people who believed that over 3% of alcohol mixed into gasoline would make a vehicle explode," he said.
In Brazil, 25% of ethanol is mixed into gasoline. Besides, the country uses pure alcohol as a fuel. Flexible fueled vehicles, which currently answer to the overwhelming majority of vehicles manufactured by the national industry, will run on gasoline, ethanol, or any combination of the two.
"Many Europeans do not believe it when we say that autos imported from the European Union itself already come prepared to run on 25% of ethanol," stated Lago.
The diplomat also adds that there is a certain amount of prejudice, especially in Europe, about technological advances promoted by developing countries. To that extent, he explains that Brazilian progress in the field of ethanol is regarded as "exotic at most", and that there are no Brazilian authors in the bibliography of studies on the theme conducted by Europeans.
In addition to the technical issues, Brazil wants to rationalize the discussion about the relation between biofuels and foodstuffs. Agroenergy has been singled out by countries and international organizations as one of the villains responsible for rising food prices on a global scale, and the Brazilian government has been putting on an effort worldwide to explain that, in the case of the country, the sector does not compete for space with food production.
Brazilian ethanol is manufactured from sugarcane, rather than from raw materials also used for feeding humans and animals, such as corn, which is used for alcohol fuel production in the United States. Furthermore, Brazil still has a vast area to be used for all types of crops, thus there is no need for sugarcane to take over other crops or preservation areas.
According to Lago, there is not an exclusive multilateral organization turned to biofuels, therefore the issue ends up being discussed at different forums, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Energy Agency (IEA). In other words, the debate ends up not including all of its aspects at once, such as agriculture, energy and environment.
"We want to spread awareness of that, and of the fact that the dialogue must include different fields of knowledge, its various aspects and idiosyncrasies," stated the diplomat. In his opinion, the subject cannot be made to look simple, as biofuels production depends on the reality of each country: for some it might be a great opportunity, whereas for others there might be spatial limitations, environmental restrictions or risks to food production.
Another matter that Brazil wants to demystify is the notion that biofuels compete with oil. From the Brazilian vantage point, biofuels are never going to replace mineral fuels in the global energy matrix. What can happen is that the mixing of alcohol into gasoline, or of biodiesel into diesel, might slow down the pace of oil consumption.
Initially, the conference held in São Paulo was supposed to be a forum for discussion of more technical matters, such as the international standardization of ethanol, aiming to turn it into a commodity.
The realization that there is widespread lack of knowledge regarding the subject, though, led the Brazilian government to shift the focus of the event, making it more didactic. "We must disseminate information in order to give rise to informed dialogue," claimed Lago.
To that extent, the Brazilian government wants to bring together, from November 17th to 21st, not only ministers and other government officials, but also specialists from different regions of the world, in order to promote a public debate. Lago stated that the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) is even producing a book on the subject.
"We are going to work hard to make precise, honest information available," he said. Representatives of all UN member states are being invited, including heads of state and government.
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