Brazilian ethanol – a conspiracy? The International Conference on Biofuels

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This week, São Paulo is hosting the International Conference on Biofuels. Organized by the Brazilian government at the Hyatt Hotel, the event wants to encourage an international discussion on ethanol production and application worldwide. So far, the plenary session that called my particular attention was the Plenary Session III on “Biofuels and Sustainability” moderated by Marina Silva, the former Brazilian Minister of Environment. Some of the participants brought up a very provocative subject – the “Black Agenda”.
For Maria Foster, Director for Gas and Energy at Petrobras, the “Black Agenda” is an international lobby against international certification of Brazilian ethanol. In her opinion, this group is blocking worldwide commercialization of Brazilian ethanol because of oil companies’ concerns regarding the potential of ethanol on a global scale.
Why certification is important
Alicia Bárbacena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), highlighted the fact that it is very important to certify internationally all kind of products, services and commodities to guarantee their qualities and origination. Several standards testify for good practices, ethics and environmental friendly procedures of the production. Roberto Smeraldi, Director at Amigos da Terra (a Brazilian NGO), pointed out that ECLAC is trying to achieve a similar international standard to that of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Conspiracy theories
Back to the Black Agenda. Talking to some of the participants after the panel, they were even more open about their concerns. Several of them believed in the existence of such a conspiracy to curb the promotion and commercialization of Brazilian ethanol as a new fuel option. Others felt Mrs. Foster attributes too much of the resistance to the oil lobby, and that critics are correct in highlighting food security, deforestation due to agricultural expansion and labor concerns associated with Brazilian ethanol.
Conspiracy theories fascinate us. However, is the real explanation behind the slow acceptance of Brazilian ethanol a justifiable ‘prejudice’ because of the social and environmental impact of ethanol production? If not which companies should be afraid of ethanol success – why would they not just acquire ethanol interests?

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Derek Markham

Derek lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, fungi, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves fresh roasted chiles, peanut butter on everything, and buckets of coffee.

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8 thoughts on “Brazilian ethanol – a conspiracy? The International Conference on Biofuels

  • Whether or not it’s a conspiracy may be a moot point if the object of producing biofuels is to increase sustainably produced fuel and / or reduce carbon emissions. According to the erudite voice of Michael Pollan, using the current agri-business method of corn and soy production for biofuels takes 1 gal of fossil fuel to produce 1.2 gal ethanol [ie. in chemical fertilizers (from natural gas), pesticides (from petroleum) etc., etc.] – this would be different if the crops were produced sustainably, but that’s not the case.
    Agribusiness, being deeply vested in oil can not be the source of any effective solution obviously. Take a look at impressive systems such as vertigro ( for biofuel solutions to temper the inevitable decline of fossil fuel based economy (and eventual transition from the archaic combustion engine we must assume)

    • Seriously can this Niklas fellow READ?
      Brazil produces ethanol from sugarcane, which has an energy ratio of 8 to 1, instead of the 1,3 to 1 of corn.
      It does NOT produce ethanol from corn or even soy as you point out.
      So if you want to comment on a public space make sure you know your stuff otherwise you´ll look bad ok? 🙂

    • The only “black agenda” here is the fact that our country can´t stand the fact that a 3rd world country was able to rid itself of oil imports, something we are trying to do for ages and is becoming more difficult than the health care program.
      It would be so much easier if we just copied their model or just imported their ethanol.
      But no, we are too damn proud to do that.
      Instead, we desperate try to find alternate sources of ethanol, fail miserably, and give the whole business a bad name.
      It´s so stupid no wonder brazilians think there´s a conspiracy involved.

  • I did not see the following on the “Black Agenda”
    #1 Who are the oil companies involved?
    #2 What activities are they doing to substantiate this claim?
    #3 How have they managed to effectively slow down Brazilian ethanol consumption?
    The definition of the Black Agenda, its stakeholders, their agenda, and their play-book or actions is important to understand before we can speculate what impact it may/may not have.
    Bigger problems for Brazilian ethanol now are (1) agricultural protectionism in Europe (under the veil of sustainability) and the US (to protect corn) – instead of to increase clean fuels as the governments SAY they want to do – is a bigger problem for Brazilian biofuels and (2) OPEC could increase production lower prices, and basically damage the ethanol industry like they did in 1982 if OPEC can keep oil below $55 USD per barrel. Maybe that’s the black agenda.
    Ag-protectionism in the US and EU, and OPEC strategies are the larger long-term problems for Brazilian ethanol. Hopefully Barak Obama realizes this and can bring us some change we can believe in, including more clean fuels from Brazil. Thanks
    Will Thurmond
    President, Emerging Markets Online
    Author, Biodiesel 2020: A Global Market Survey
    Chairman, Development, American Biofuels Council
    Chairman, Research & Development, National Algae Association

  • Very interesting point of view from Maria Foster and the rest of the participants! I believe Brazilian ethanol should be a concern to Brazil itself and the rest of the world – not a reason to block it worldwide! And it is that in order for nations to keep developing and for any company (regardless of the type of industry) to do business, mayor changes have to be made. Before any activity, idea, new invention, etc. takes place, environmental regulations must be applied – connecting back to the “Black Agenda”, Brazil should understand that ethanol may be the new oil but should never destroy or use new land for it, or cause a food shortage for its citizens and the rest of the world.
    I applaud Brazil for the developing of alternative fuel but at the same time encourage the concerning parties to protect the environment – the way we do business is ultimately affecting the planet.

  • This talk about brazil destroying forests for alcohol has seen better days.
    In fact, it is SO proven wrong by all accounts that it just looks silly.
    If you tell me the amazon rainforest is being chopped down for CATTLE then I´ll be quiet however.
    Otherwise please don´t pound on that because you´ll look as laughable as Bill Clinton in his recent talk a week ago during the ethanol summit in são paulo.
    Al Costa
    Alkol Inc

Comments are closed.