Ethanol working to benefit Brazil, America, the world

Brazil and the U.S. have a responsibility to collaboratively build a global biofuels market, writes Leticia Phillips of UNICA, following a visit between Brazilian President and President Obama. This column appears in the August issue of EPM.
By Leticia Phillips | July 16, 2015

In late June, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff visited Washington, D.C., to strengthen the relationship between two of the Western Hemisphere’s biggest nations. But as with any successful relationship, compromise is key on important issues, and Rousseff discussed several bilateral issues critical to the global ethanol trade with President Obama.

The issue: The renewable fuel standard (RFS) is significant for both America and Brazil’s ethanol industries, and was a central topic during Rousseff’s visit. The U.S. EPA identifies sugarcane ethanol as an advanced biofuel because it reduces emissions 61 percent compared to gasoline.

Between 2012-’14, more than 1 billion gallons of sugarcane ethanol flowed from Brazil to the U.S., and while sugarcane ethanol comprised only 2 percent of all renewable fuel consumed by Americans, it provided nearly 15 percent of U.S. advanced biofuel supply. EPA’s recent RFS proposal significantly reduced target volumes for advanced biofuels below congressionally mandated levels, but increased requirements for advanced biofuels in 2015 and 2016.

Our position: Reducing RFS target volumes threatens the future of U.S. ethanol supplies. EPA should protect the RFS’ integrity by maintaining volume requirements for advanced biofuels, and should guard against using the regulatory process to impose anticompetitive requirements on foreign biofuels.

The issue: Brazil and the U.S. must consider transportation sector emissions as negotiators work toward an international climate change agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, on Dec. 21. The World Energy Council reports fossil fuels currently represent 63 percent of all global emissions, with transportation fuel generating 28 percent of total U.S. emissions and 17 percent total Brazilian emissions.

Transportation emissions aren’t limited to ground transport, and biofuels must become viable alternatives to aviation fuel. The international aviation industry is committed to growing at a carbon-neutral rate until 2020 then reducing emissions 50 percent by 2050, but biofuel production and consumption must expand to achieve this goal.

Preserving the environment is a key aspect of this drive. Deforestation has fallen sharply across the Amazon rainforest, and Rousseff pledged to “restore and reforest” 12 million hectares by 2030 during her visit. Brazil’s sugarcane ethanol industry has also expanded innovative sustainability efforts to help slow climate change, including promoting a double-crop system in production, expanding mechanized harvesting instead of preharvesting burning techniques, and using leftover plant material for bioenergy.

Our position: Ethanol is arguably the cheapest and most sustainable option available to replace fossil-based transportation fuel at large scale. Some commercial technologies can reach virtually zero emissions, and every gallon of biofuel creates long-term climate benefits and short-term public health benefits. The U.S. and Brazil must work together to develop solutions on a global scale, including incentive policies (tax or environmental) to encourage production and consumption, private sector cooperation to drive investment and innovation, and measures to protect the environment.
The issue: California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard administers a market-based approach to reducing carbon intensity from transportation fuels 10 percent from a 1990 baseline by 2020 through the California Air Resources Board.

CARB is readopting the LCFS to reflect new indirect landuse change modeling and carbon intensity life-cycle analysis, both of which confirm sugarcane ethanol as the lowest-carbon biofuel available at commercial scale today. While this is primarily a state issue, LCFS readoption will have a major impact on America’s single largest transportation fuels market and other states launching their own LCFS policies.

Our position: Brazilian sugarcane ethanol is uniquely positioned to help reduce emissions. UNICA encourages CARB to work with Brazil’s technical representatives to capture nuances like electricity cogeneration from biomass and the double-crop production system, and encourages the federal government to support smart biofuels policy at the state level.

Brazil and the U.S. show pragmatic public policy and cooperation can create economic growth and environmental benefits for both countries. Earth has an urgent need for low-carbon, sustainable transportation fuels, and as the world’s two biggest ethanol producers and exporters, our countries have much to share in experience and technology.

Brazil and the U.S. have a responsibility to collaboratively build a global biofuels market providing clean, affordable, and sustainable solutions to the planet’s growing energy needs. Brazil’s government and sugarcane ethanol industry are committed to not only expanding the mutually beneficial relationship with America, but to growing the international biofuels market.   

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