The world’s two biggest ethanol producers – Brazil and USA – which together produced around 34bn liters (approximately 50% each), are working towards a common policy to increase production of the renewable-resource fuel.

A privately-run committee with the participation of the Inter-American Development Bank has recently  been formed to monitor world demand for the product, the increase of capacity and to research new raw materials (in addition to sugar cane in Brazil and corn in the USA). One of the main objectives is to turn ethanol into a commodity to enable international trading.

There are ambitious projects in both countries. Brazil has ongoing private investments totalling $10bn which are likely to double production within the next four years to 30bn litres yearly. The US plans to reach 50bn litres in five years, which would overtake Brazil as top world producer.

One of the key advantages of ethanol is a sharp cut in CO2 generation, as the gas engines emit is compensated for by photosynthesis during plant growth. In Brazil, which runs 100% ethanol engines and uses cane to generate electricity and vapour at distilleries, the CO2 cycle is practically closed, ie all emitted CO2 is effectively captured back at the sugar cane fields.

Fernando Calmon