Who knows the entire story of Brazil's ethanol ?

beaglebuddyMarch 1, 2006

Can someone set the story strait ?

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They've used it for a long time. Some drivers park on the sidewalks around motel disco's.. double park in the streets, people surely like to party there with alcohols and park all over the place.
Some of the streets in Rio are one way part of the day and then switch to the other direction other parts of the day. Gotta be careful on those ethanols.

What the heck is it you are asking ?

    Bookmark   March 8, 2006 at 8:15AM
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The history of how they came to use ethanol for vehicle fuel, was this a goverment program or did it result from private industry ? What economic factors were involved ?

    Bookmark   March 8, 2006 at 2:01PM
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My newspaper had an article on it today .. AP story. According to the article; they are presently providing about 70% of their vehicle fuel with ethanol. The ethanol industry there is thriving . . and profitable . . after decades of gov't intervention and subsidies. The "waste" sugar cane is then burned; which provides ALL the electricity FOR the plant; and excess as well put out into the grid.

Now here's the neat part . . how ironic that the origin of this . . . stems from the 1970's decision by military dictators to subsidize ethanol production, and REQUIRE distribution at EVERY gas station.

The article also states that since our gov't does not dictate what happens in the marketplace . . the process here will be much slower than in Brazil . . .

This is ALL gleaned from an AP article by Alan Clendenning that showed up in my local paper 3/12/06.

Let the facts speak for themselves . . Brazil's success story with ethanol . . . is now a thriving / profitable business . . but it would not even EXIST . . . were it not for gov't policies / subsidies . . Ironic that a "third world", poor country, run by a dictator at the time; had the foresight to start such a thing. And here we are; the most advanced country in the world that uses MORE oil / capita than ANYONE; and we're beginning to think about it . . and that our fearless leader has finally figured out that we depend on foreign oil a mere 30 years after Brazil figured it out . . . .


    Bookmark   March 12, 2006 at 7:29AM
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O.k. what's the downside ?

    Bookmark   March 13, 2006 at 9:56PM
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Don't see one here . . while we don't have the same sugar cane crop here ( magnitude-wise ), ethanol is easily generated from lots of agricultural "waste" . .

There is one, and ONLY one reason we are not in a similar circumstance . . . the gov't here has too long listened to the oil lobbies and refused to pursue / encourage / subsidize such alternate forms of clean / renewable energy. So, we're gonna solve our oil dependency by drilling in pristine areas for little result but for a bunch of money for the people / companies actually doing it.

We should be embarassed by Brazil's example . . . and so should many other countries in the world . . .


    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 6:04AM
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Oil has been cheap for a long time, factoring in inflation it's probably still cheap compared to alternatives. Problems related to aquiring the oil are another story and the future is unsure. Ethanol seems like a good ides to me, after all aren't we subsidizing farmers to grow corn and such that aren't really needed ? so perhaps America's heartland could be converted to sugarcain or whatever works best and we could secure our own energy source and cut the funding to the throatcutters. But aren't there pollution problems w/ ethanol production that enviromental whackos stand in the way of ?

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 12:07PM
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I think that there's more pollution in Brasil than here. The last time I was there was in 1986 and the smog was unbeleivable. Not only because of the ethanol but everything it was awful like being stuck behind a diesel school bus in winter. Anyway maybe by now they cleaned up their air.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 7:30PM
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Ethanol inherently burns cleaner than any gasoline EVER will . . it is a small, simple molecule with nothing but hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen in it. Look at the stuff / additives in ANY gasoline . . far from the basic three for sure.

Under ideal conditions, nothing but carbon dioxide and water vapor are produced. Real conditions, there will be some unburned hydrocarbons, and some carbon monoxide. With good engine design; these unburned hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide would be quite minimal. That leaves water vapor, and carbon dioxide. By themselves, very simple / easily consumed / transformed by plants, sun, etc. About the only REAL concern with it is the AMOUNT of carbon dioxide produced . . . and what it's impact on the carbon cycle is. But, by itself in quantities that nature can handle; it's pretty harmless stuff.

As for the smog in '86 . . for sure, far less than 70% of vehicles ran on ethanol then . . and the remainder might have been old s&$tboxes that had no emission controls or wer just too old to have them. Also, two stroke engines, which burn oil / gasoline mix; may have been quite prevalent. They are fairly cheap to manufacture, weigh about half for a given horsepower, and easily do scooter, motorcycles etc. Those would definately contribute to smog issues. Smog is mostly unburned hydrocarbons that get acted upon by the sun. If you've got smog, you've got a lot of hydrocarbons in the air . . . like unburned fuel from older engines, ones with lack of emission controls, and again 2 stroke engines with their tell-tale blue smoke. Oddly enough, the "smoke" which gave the Smokey mountains their name . . . is due to hydrocarbons in the air, acted upon by the sun. The hydrocarbons in this case are the resins / sap / pitch from the pine trees . . . it's a hydrocarbon too.

Ethanol CAN burn very cleanly . . can be fermented / distilled from lots of different ag wastes . . and CAN be a pretty clean overall source of energy for whatever . . by using an already existing by-product of some other process. But, again . . it won't happen without "somebody" pushin' a button to get it started to where it can self-sustain . . . just like Brazil did . . .


    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 6:45PM
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Nobody knows the entire story. The Wikipedia article covers a lot of the issues.

Here is a link that might be useful: Ethanol fuel

    Bookmark   April 8, 2006 at 12:56AM
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Is there actually enough production capacity in the USA to even make a dent in demand? Seems like there may not be enough arable land.Hope I'm wrong.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2006 at 3:17PM
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You ask some very good questions. Ethanol can and is made today very economically. As a matter of fact, gasoline suppliers are in the process of switching over to Ethanol from a very toxic alternative as an oxygenator for gasoline.

One downside to ethonol - it has a tendency to attract water. This in volume is bad for metal. Metal is a component of fuel delivery for infrastructure (pumps, storage, pipeline) and vehicles.

Do some googling on biodiesel. It's another alternative fuel that is also a derivative of crops.

Why are we not using these? The infrastructure costs associated with building up the manufacturing and delivery is one reason. The other, nobody has forgotten $1/gallon gas. When prices drop that low these alternatives are no longer economically feasable. It would kill any investments. The only solution is tax breaks for development (done) and a regressive tax on petroleum that would gaurantee prices above ~$1.60 a gallon.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2006 at 5:14PM
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Alcohol attracting water . . . . hmmmm

Take a look at a container of "dry gas" . . almost always methanol . . . one small step away from ethanol. Alcohols are one of the few things which can dissolve in both water; and petrochemicals such as gas, oil, etc. This is in fact the very reason they are used for "dry gas" . . . they absorb and therefore "dissolve" the water in gasoline . . which is how they rid your tank of that moisture which inevitably collects in any climate where temp / humidity changes occur on a regular basis.

Running ethanol etc through pipes . . . will actually PROTECT them from water / corrosion damage; as the alcohol absorbs it / suspends it . . and there is also no / very little air there . . oxygen being the other thing needed for rust / corrosion. Water does NOT make things rust / corrode . . . it simply facilitates / catalyzes the reaction of oxygen with metals. Salts can corrode too ? ? ? like the stuff used in the north during the winter on the roads ? ? ? . . .well, not really. Salts are hydrophyllic . . . they attract / absorb moisture from the air . . which again provides moisture . . water . . which is the catalyst for oxidizing metals . . we call it rusting / corroding.

No matter the recent "push" for ethanol fuels / "E85" . . . we could have long ago started using it . . the 80's had a stretch where methanol blends were available; in lower concentrations. There just weren't enough financial incentives for it to survive or become more widespread. Also, chemical companies make more money doing the nasty stuff to make the oxygenating chemicals; than they do making ethanol.

It all just comes down to money again . . and as long as oil companies enjoy free-reign in Washington; it's not gonna change here . . . .

We should be moving ahead into the 70's like Brazil did . . if we had; we wouldn't be sitting where we are right now . .. . .


    Bookmark   April 23, 2006 at 8:28AM
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I always find it entertaining when I find references based on reminiscence of high school chemistry. Don't take my word. I suggest a credible reference on corrosive effects. See page three, left column.


Fuel delivery systems, whether vehicles, pipelines or storage, need to be designed to withstand these effects. Otherwise, they must be modified($$$).

    Bookmark   April 23, 2006 at 10:15PM
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how difficult is it to convert a gas engine use ethanol..?

    Bookmark   June 6, 2006 at 9:11AM
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From what I've read ethanol production is optimized when using sugar cane. Takes much more energy to get ethanol from corn which seems to be the prevalant method in the US. From additional reading I understand that the reason we use corn is because of influence from the farm lobby. We're stuck with a climate in most of the US that is not suitable for cane production so we fall for the influence of one lobby, the farm, to get away from the influence of another, petroleum.

So, while we might have been able to move to it sooner than now the cost of production of a gallon of ethanol relative to a gallon of gas back in the 70's made no economic sense. In this case a controlled economy with incentives for ethanol production and disincentives for petroleum made the transition to ethanol possible in Brazil and nearly impossible in the US.

My .02-Louisville_Card

    Bookmark   June 6, 2006 at 4:40PM
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This is an interesting thread...

The story of Brazil's ethanol policy in the 70's is very interesting... and has much more to it than is portrayed here. When I was doing my MBA, we had a large contingent from south america in the class... some from Brazil... and a few from the energy industry there. They went pretty deep into the dynamics with all of us. I thought you might be interested.

I'll try to keep it short:

The above thread is correct that the dictatorial mandate for ethanol production, distribution, and use in the 70's laid the foundation for today's ethanol success... but it also caused many, many troubles for their economy, and actually set their ethanol use back 25 years. I realize that statement is a strange conflict... but both are true.

In the 70's, auto technology and production was not to the level it is today... and dual-fuel and "flex-fuel" vehicles were not available in mass. So, when the price of oil was extremely high in the 70's, Brazil's gov't pushed mandates for independence through ethanol... and everyone went out and bought ethanol-run autos, which helped develop the industry and infrastructure.

The problem, of course, was that oil prices did not stay high. When oil prices tanked, Brazil's consumers were stuck with ethanol, though the production of it was dropping since it had to compete with very low oil prices... and profitibility suffered. This eventually created shortages of ethanol there, and it became extremely expensive and scarce. Consumers were understandably pretty upset about it since their cars couldn't run on the cheap gas that was now prevalent. So, to make a long story a bit shorter, Brazil's people became disenchanted with ethanol, and converted largely back to gas until new government initiatives again pushed ethanol in the late 90's, with new autos that ran on either gasoline -or- ethanol (flex-fuel) to help ease consumers' anxiety of a repeat situation of the 70's. Consumers gradually warmed to the idea, and in the past 4 years use has been skyrocketing. This is, of course, aided by Brazil's perfect sugarcane growing environment... which as was pointed out earlier here, has an efficient conversion to ethanol. My buddies from Brazil say mini-plants have been springing up everywhere in the countryside... similar to how cotton gins formerly speckled the mid-west US... in every small town.

One of these guys told me a story about him driving through a very rural area recently to check out some farmland his family was planning to purchase for an investment. He was just driving along when he looked down and noticed his fuel gauge was almost on "E". He'd driven ~40 miles since the last fuel station... and didn't know how far it was until the next would come along. So, he stopped at what he called a "very run down... scary bar" to ask where the nearest fuel stop was. Well, as you can probably guess, there was no station within ~40 miles (converting from kilometers)... and he knew he couldn't make it that far... so, he purchased some jugs of locally brewed alcohol from the bar (sorry I don't remember the name of the stuff, but it's everclear-like and very popular in Brazil). He said he very nervously poured this into what happened to be a flex-fuel auto... and drove without problem to the next fuel station ~60 miles away.

Disclaimer: don't try this at home, kids...

This is second-hand, but direct from some very trusted and well educated friends.


and BTW... I'm very much pro-ethanol as a bridge to hydrogen fuel cells. Don't know if corn on a mass scale is viable using current technology, but I do know that sugar cane from Brazil would be.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2006 at 12:03PM
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mgm_360 Always good to hear an "insider" view that would be difficult to get unless you were in country. I had forgotten about the dual-fuel being the impetus and thought that they had appeared earlier than the latter part of the 90's. The fact that the flex-fuel cars appeared, gas and ethanol prices were competitve, and the infrastucture was already in place is what appears to have spurred the conversion.

Thanks for the post-Louisville_Card

    Bookmark   June 8, 2006 at 10:41PM
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About 2.6 gallons of ethanol can be produced from a bushel of corn. The USDA has forcasted the 06/07 corn harvest to be 10.81 billion bushels. They estimate usage for ethanol to be 2.15 billion bushels for 06/07 also. Exports will be expected to be about 2.0 billion. They are predicting a usage deficit of about .685 billion bushels.

The US uses 360 million gallons of gas per day. So if my math is correct it would take about 43 billion bushels of corn to make enough E85(85%ethanol/15gasoline) to meet the US needs. Looks like we are a little short.

Maybe farmers could go back to growing corn in the Midwest instead of selling land to developers for subdivions so they can survive.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2006 at 12:19PM
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Wow great info mgm_360.

It's always interesting to see how little government intervention in a market economy actually does very little to help anything, but people always want to believe that government policies can solve anything. They almost always hurt more than they help.

" . . and that our fearless leader has finally figured out that we depend on foreign oil a mere 30 years after Brazil figured it out . . . ."

Oh come on now Bob ;)

Talking about it and getting the ball rolling is more than I have seen from any other fearless leader we have had in recent history.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2006 at 8:08PM
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Actually, if we use corn, we would need MORE gallons than we currently use because there's not the same amount of energy in the corn based ethonol as there is in gas. This is according to an article in the paper reciently.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2006 at 1:39PM
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I've been told that one of the drawbacks to ethanol production is the enormous amounts of water necssary to produce it - our water consumpsion is another problem we are slow to rectify.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2006 at 9:31AM
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Car and Driver published a good article about ethanol, see link below. The main point is that the auto-makers are pushing ethanol because the mileage of their dual-fuel vehicles is only calculated against the 15% gasoline content of E85. This gives them spectacular MPG numbers to offset the low-MPG of SUVs when calculating their fleet average. The questions abouve about "can we really run the country on ethanol" are also addressed.

Here is a link that might be useful: Car and Driver Article

    Bookmark   June 19, 2006 at 8:26PM
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