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Brazil laments snail’s pace of vehicle biofuel technology /// EcoSeed

By Jen Balboa

In 2008, Brazil produced an estimated 565 million metric tons of sugarcane, yielding 31.3 million tons of sugar and 25.7 billion liters of ethanol. Brazil’s top producers of sugar and ethanol recently appealed to the world’s automakers to use a technology that allows a vehicle to easily run on more than one kind of fuel more extensively.

At the announcement of Brazil’s 10 millionth flex-fuel vehicle, the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (Unica) urged carmakers to invest more on the technology which it said will widely encourage ethanol production.

A flex-fuel vehicle is designed to run on more than one kind of fuel, usually gasoline blended with alternative fuel such as ethanol.

Marcos Jank, Unica president, said the technology allows consumers to choose renewable fuel of much lower environmental impact compared with any fossil fuel.

Brazil’s interest in seeing more and more vehicles that can run seamlessly with biofuel is not without good economic reasons. In 2008, the country produced an estimated 565 million metric tons of sugarcane, yielding 31.3 million tons of sugar and 25.7 billion liters of ethanol, thus making itself the number one sugarcane grower and producer, and the second-largest ethanol producer in the world.

Brazil’s decision to invest heavily in flex-fuel technology has resulted in industries foregoing the production of vehicles powered solely by gasoline. Mr. Jank said the next step should be the introduction of the technology to the rest of the world.

Not yet widespread
But flex-fuel technology’s success in Brazil has not yet reached other countries. This is mainly due to the underdevelopment of ethanol industries elsewhere.

In cases where interest in ethanol technology advancement is present, other barriers such as tariffs or restrictive policies are present, too.

This is bad for the Brazilian sugarcane ethanol sector which has struggled to enter global markets competitively, analysts say.

"Automakers should present their incredible Brazilian success story to the world as a perfectly viable example for others to adopt. The cost of presenting this option to consumers is not high,” Mr. Jank said.

Alfred Szwarc, Unica’s technology and emissions consultant, said flex-fuel vehicles should be taken to important automotive events such as the Frankfurt, Detroit and Geneva auto shows, along with public education concerning them.

“It is unfortunate that emphasis on flex-fuel technology is not even seen at the Brazilian Auto Show, where the success and market dominance of these vehicles should be a source of pride for the industry, the country and consumers," Mr. Szwarc said.

"We know this is not a simple or quick process, but the introduction of flex-fuel vehicles around the world is something that has to be considered, and it can only happen with decisive support from automakers. The role of the auto industry is crucial," stressed Mr. Jank, who also noted the lack of information about the existence, success and importance of flex-fuel cars in Brazil.

Unica represents the top producers of sugar and ethanol in the country's south-central region, particularly the state of Sao Paulo, which accounts for about 50 percent of the country's sugarcane harvest and 60 percent of total ethanol production

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