Brazil, South America's economic heavyweight, could produce enough ethanol to replace 10 percent of world gasoline demand in the next 20 years, according to a recently unveiled project.
News of the renewable energy project comes amid growing concern about greenhouse gases caused by burning fossil fuels that are blamed for global warming.
The Brazilian project, developed with the participation of the government and state-owned oil giant Petrobas, would multiply by 15 times the country's current production of ethanol from sugar cane.
The ramp-up would push Brazilian ethanol exports to 200 billion liters in the coming 20 years, up from the roughly 3 billion liters currently exported, Rogerio Cesar Cerqueira Leite, a professor emeritus at Campinas University, told reporters.
Cerqueira Leite presented the project on Feb. 9 to the Sao Paulo State Business Federation.
The project would need investments of up to 20 billion reals (US$10 billion) a year for the first four or five years, after which the need was expected to diminish.
"During the final seven to eight years, the return [on investment] should cover the amounts invested," Cerqueira Leite said.
He said that Brazil, the continent's biggest country, could drastically increase ethanol production without destroying the Amazon rainforest or encroaching on farmland.
"Brazil has an enormous quantity of available land. We don't need to go into the Amazon or compete with food growing," he said.
"The project can be done by occupying a small part of the available land in Brazil, to the exclusion of the virgin forest, the protected areas," he said.
According to him, only 10 percent of the available land would be needed.
The project was developed from ethanol technologies currently in use in Brazil, without resorting to more sophisticated techniques.
"To produce these quantities using hydrolysis would require barely a third of the hectares," he said.
Under the project, sugar cane would be grown in practically all regions of Brazil, and local distilleries would be built to produce process it into ethanol.
Besides being the world's top exporter of ethanol, Brazil is also a leading producer of the fuel, along with the US, which extracts it from corn rather than sugar cane.
Underpinning the country's success has been the mass-marketing since 2003 of hybrid-fuel cars, which consume either pure ethanol or a five-to-one mix of gasoline and ethanol. There are now more than 2.6 million such vehicles in the domestic market.
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