US, Brazil Demonstrate What’s Possible

UNICA wants to focus the discussion on the importance of advanced biofuels, like sugarcane ethanol. The RFS is one of the world’s most ambitious programs promoting biofuels and a key policy for the future of sustainable transportation.
By Leticia Phillips | July 18, 2016

As we comment on the “Renewable Fuel Standard Program:  Standards for 2017 and Biomass-Based Diesel Volume for 2018; Proposed Rule,” the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association—also known as UNICA— wants to make sure to focus this discussion on the importance of advanced biofuels, like sugarcane ethanol. The renewable fuel standard (RFS) is one of the world’s most ambitious programs promoting biofuels and a key policy for the future of sustainable transportation.

During the past 30 years, renewable fuels have become a cornerstone of Brazil’s economic and environmental policy. They have helped to reduce oil dependency, increase domestic energy security, create sustainable economic growth and improve the environment.  We are very proud of Brazil’s experience with biofuels. That’s why UNICA regularly engages with the U.S. EPA, California Air Resources Board, European Union regulators, and many others to help shape supportive policies.

It may come as a surprise that nearly half of Brazil’s energy comes from renewable resources, and sugarcane supplies almost 20 percent of our nation’s total energy consumption. We call this the “Brazilian experience” with biomass and biofuels.

Sugarcane ethanol is a big part of that equation. This clean and affordable biofuel is produced by fermenting sugarcane juice and molasses into a high-octane, alcohol-based fuel. Our cars are a little different in Brazil.  Flex-fuel vehicles capable of running on either gasoline (which in Brazil is E27) or ethanol comprise about 90 percent of new domestic vehicle sales. Brazilian consumers have a choice at the pump, and they’ve chosen to replace almost 40 percent of our gasoline needs with sugarcane ethanol.

Our country is also a pioneer developer of cellulosic ethanol and second-generation biofuels. Brazilian companies Raízen and GranBio are among the handful of firms around the world, joining a few others in the U.S., that are producing cellulosic ethanol on a commercial scale. This technology is still in its infancy, but it holds tremendous potential and it deserves the chance to grow.

The United States and Brazil have shown what’s possible when the policies are right, when markets are open and when trade and innovation are encouraged. Our two countries are the world’s largest ethanol producers and exporters, and have an obligation to work together to build a global biofuels market providing clean, affordable and sustainable solutions to the planet’s growing energy needs.

That goal brings us back to the RFS. Congress clearly intended this program to foster development of advanced and cellulosic biofuels that cut carbon emissions significantly. EPA manages the RFS and identifies Brazilian sugarcane ethanol as an advanced biofuel because it reduces greenhouse gases by 61 percent compared to gasoline—a reduction similar to cellulosic biofuels. California also considers sugarcane ethanol as an important component for meeting that state’s low-carbon fuel standard.

As a result, Brazilian sugarcane ethanol plays a modest but important role supplying the United States with clean renewable fuel. For the past four years, nearly 1.2 billion gallons of sugarcane ethanol flowed into American cars. During this time, Brazilian sugarcane ethanol comprised only 2 percent of all renewable fuels consumed by Americans, but provided one-tenth of the U.S. advanced biofuel supply.

Our members are making investments to expand production, and Americans can depend on more advanced biofuel from sugarcane. Brazil is expected to produce 8 billion gallons of sugarcane ethanol during the current harvest and we hope the RFS creates the market conditions to receive part of this volume in the United States.

Congress designed the renewable fuel standard to stimulate advanced biofuels that generate fewer greenhouse emissions compared to gasoline and other fossil fuels.  Sugarcane ethanol and cellulosic biofuels from Brazil are reliable options for diversifying energy supplies so Americans are not dependent on any one source or country. 

Americans deserve access to these cleaner fuels, UNICA will continue to support preserving a strong role for advanced and cellulosic biofuels under the RFS.

Author: Leticia Phillips
North American Representative,
Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association, UNICA