Energy Stories

Ethanol fuel in Brazil


Brazil is the world's second largest producer of ethanol fuel and the world's largest exporter. Together, Brazil and the United States lead the industrial production of ethanol fuel. In 2009 Brazil produced 24.9 billion litres, 38% of world production.

Brazil is considered to have the world's first sustainable biofuels economy. Its sugarcane ethanol is "the most successful alternative fuel to date." However, some consider that the successful Brazilian ethanol model is sustainable only in Brazil due to its advanced agro-industrial technology and its enormous amount of arable land available. Brazil has ethanol fuel available throughout the country. Shown here a typical Petrobras gas station at São Paulo with dual fuel service, marked A for alcohol (ethanol) and G for gasoline.

Brazil’s 30-year-old ethanol fuel program is based on the most efficient agricultural technology for sugarcane cultivation in the world, uses modern equipment and cheap sugar cane as feedstock, the residual cane-waste (bagasse) is used to process heat and power, which results in a very competitive price and also in a high energy balance (output energy/input energy), which varies from 8.3 for average conditions to 10.2 for best practice production. In 2010, the U.S. EPA designated Brazilian sugarcane ethanol as an advanced biofuel due to its 61% reduction of total life cycle greenhouse gas emissions, including direct indirect land use change emissions.

There are no longer any light vehicles in Brazil running on pure gasoline. Since 1976 the government made it mandatory to blend anhydrous ethanol with gasoline. Since July 1, 2007 the mandatory blend is 25% of anhydrous ethanol and 75% gasoline or E25 blend.

The Brazilian car manufacturing industry developed flexible-fuel vehicles that can run on any proportion of gasoline (E20-E25 blend) and hydrous ethanol (E100). Introduced in the market in 2003, flex vehicles became a commercial success, reaching a record 92% share of all new cars and light vehicle sales for 2009. In March 2010, the cumulative production of flex-fuel cars and light commercial vehicles reached the milestone of 10 million vehicles, and by December 2009 they represented 39% of Brazil's registered Otto cycle light motor vehicle fleet. The success of "flex" vehicles, together with the mandatory E25 blend throughout the country, have allowed ethanol fuel consumption in the country to achieve a 50% market share of the gasoline-powered fleet by February 2008.In terms of energy equivalent, sugarcane ethanol represented 18% of the country's total energy consumption by the transport sector in 2008.

Comparison of the leading automotive biofuel markets

Characteristic Brazil Sweden US
Type of fuel E20-E100 E85 E85
Main feedstock Sugar cane imported Maize
Total flex-fuel vehicles, million 10.6 0.2 9.3
Share of flex fuel vehicles, % 16% 4% 3%
Ethanol fueling stations 35,017 1,200 2,113
   % of total 100% 30% 1%