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Student demonstrators in the rainy weather protesting outside of Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday.
Photos from April 23 protests
Published April 23, 2024

Brazil leads the way on ethanol

Brazil should serve as a positive example for reducing dependence on oil.

If there ever was an ethanol superpower, Brazil easily would win the title. A controversial fuel source in the United States, ethanol is a staple of energy in South America’s largest country, where some say petroleum is almost history.

The biggest advantage of ethanol lies in its ability to free Brazil from relying on Middle Eastern oil. Three-quarters of the country’s vehicles sold today run on ethanol, gasoline or a combination of the two, and ethanol supplies about half the domestic passenger-vehicle fuel demand.

Unlike the United States, which relies on corn for ethanol production, Brazil uses sugarcane. The country is the world’s largest sugar producer and has plenty of land dedicated to it. The only possible downfall to this is the potential for expansion into the Amazon rain forest; if demand for sugarcane is allowed to encroach on the rain forest, the downfalls of ethanol might begin to outweigh the significant benefits.

Price is another factor that must be controlled for ethanol to continue its reign. Gasoline in Brazil is about $4.69 per gallon while ethanol is at $3.59 per gallon, and not as efficient. But the country also has been pushing exportation of the fuel, driven by President George W. Bush’s lead to decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil. For Brazil’s ethanol industry to go into the red would require oil to drop below $35 or $40 per barrel from its current cost of more than $60 per barrel.

While ethanol production in the United States is still questionable in terms of production efficiency – some argue that the energy cost of producing ethanol is the same or greater than the energy ethanol ultimately provides – in Brazil, sugarcane waste is burned to generate steam for turbines that provide electricity for the plants and nearby towns. This efficiency is commendable.

Brazil should serve as a model for renewable, domestic energy for the entire world. The United States lags far behind; our gluttony for foreign oil is downright sickening. We need to refine the use of renewable energy sources such as ethanol and become another superpower for the environment and domestic energy.

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