Nebraska corn producers are excited about Brazilian biofuels

By Nebraska Corn Board | April 04, 2014

A group of Nebraska, Iowa, and Ohio corn farmers have returned from a multi-state trade mission to Brazil excited about the potential relationships and similarities of ethanol fuel.

The objective of this joint mission was to gain a better understanding of Brazil’s role in the worldwide market of energy and agriculture and determine how Nebraska and the United States can be partners with Brazil on worldwide ethanol markets. Participants on the mission included farmer-directors on the Nebraska Corn Board, Debbie Borg from Allen and Dennis Gengenbach from Smithfield, as well as Kim Clark, director of biofuels development on staff with the Nebraska Corn Board.

Brazil is the number one sugarcane producer and exporter in the world.  They are also the number two producer of ethanol, following the United States, and the number one ethanol exporter worldwide.  It is also mandatory that at least 25 percent ethanol be blended in each gallon of gasoline.    

“The trip was definitely eye opening and educational.  All of the commonalities and similarities of Brazilian agriculture in comparison to the United States are amazing,” said Debbie Borg.   “The biggest issue they are dealing with is drought.  It is very severe and their sugarcane, corn, soybean, and coffee crops are suffering.” 

Brazil’s closed-loop ethanol system of producing electricity from bagasse, the byproduct of sugar and ethanol production, is well known.  Although the U.S. does not produce electricity from ethanol production, the U.S. produces distillers grains for livestock feed. 

“Our ethanol story and the production of distillers grains are important for the ethanol industry in the United States.  We need to be better about reaching out to consumers and educating them,” said Dennis Gengenbach.

“The transportation infrastructure, or lack thereof, was interesting.  To get grains to the port for export, trucks have to haul the grain hundreds of miles on narrow roads,” said Borg.  “It will be a while before Brazil expands their infrastructure.  The U.S. already has water and rail infrastructure developed, and we can use that to our advantage as we further develop export markets for our distillers grains and ethanol."


In addition to infrastructure advantages in the U.S., the group felt that export of distillers grains and ethanol are key to being export leaders.  Borg states, “Brazil’s growth potential to increase ethanol production is unlimited.  Only 5.5 percent of total cropland is used for sugarcane production for ethanol.  There is much more land to tap into for sugarcane production.”

"Some of the key decisions they need to make in Brazil are which areas to develop next for cropland and where to build infrastructure,” said Gengenbach.  “The United States needs to stay ahead of export markets and transportation infrastructure before Brazil catches up to us.”

During the trade mission, the team also:


        •   Met with UNICA – the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association representing sugar, ethanol, and bioelectricity producers - discuss sugarcane producers and expectations in Brazil

  • Visited the Brazilian Bioethanol Science and Technology Laboratory to discuss sugarcane varieties and GMO’s in sugarcane
  • Met with Delphi Powertrain South America Tech Center to learn about flex fuel vehicles, how they differ from flex fuel vehicles in the United States and what information could be communicated to automobile manufacturers in the United States
  • Visited the Zilor Group to understand how the biggest global trader of sugar and ethanol operates and how their operation differs from operations of similar size
  • Met with the Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock of Brazil to understand their livestock industry, how it differs from the United States, potential partnerships to expand exports to foreign countries, and where the livestock production needs to expand in Brazil and the United States.
  • Met with the Ministry of Agriculture to understand agriculture as a whole in the country of Brazil—and how ethanol impacts consumers and government decisions.

"Brazil is fully supportive of U.S. ethanol and they understand the importance of relationships and working together," Gengenbach said.  "All of the key contacts we met were very interested in partnering with the U.S. to expand ethanol exports into key foreign markets – especially China and India."