• Oct 30th 2009 at 4:01PM
  • 37
A few weeks ago Rio de Janeiro landed the 2016 Olympics largely thanks to the fact that Brazil is climbing up the rank of nations. It has grown to become the 10th largest economy in the world and a key reason has to do with the country's energy policy.
By committing heavily to ethanol, Brazil no longer imports oil to make fuel. That means the country now has a trade surplus and a positive balance of payments. The economy is growing while unemployment is dropping. Ethanol doesn't get all the credit for Brazil's impressive growth, but it's playing a significant role. Instead of talking about kicking its oil addiction, Brazil did it.

An unexpected side benefit of committing to ethanol is that Brazil is also taking the lead in developing new fuel injection systems that allow cars to run on pure ethanol (E-100). This is arguably the first time that Brazil has ever taken the lead on automotive technology.


John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit" and daily web video "Autoline Daily". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers.
You can buy two types of cars in Brazil: ones that run on gasoline, or flex-fuel cars that can run on any combination of gasoline and ethanol. (Diesels are banned in passenger cars.) Yet, even the gasoline cars have to be highly tolerant of ethanol. All the gasoline in Brazil is blended to E-22. At a time when the United States is still debating whether it's prudent to blend anything higher than E-10, Brazil blew through that number over a decade ago.

There are technical challenges to running engines on pure ethanol. Cold-starts are an issue even in a tropical country like Brazil. At temperatures less than 13°C (about 55°F) ethanol doesn't vaporize well, making it hard to start an engine.

To compensate for this, E-100 engines in Brazil start and run on gasoline for the first 90 seconds or so. This requires a separate gas tank, which for packaging reasons, is located under the hood. It looks like an extra windshield washer fluid container that holds about a half a gallon and uses the same kind of pump as the washer bottle. But automakers don't like this arrangement because most motorists in Brazil rarely see the temperature drop below 13°C. That means they can go months on end before their car has to start on gasoline, meaning the gas can go bad or even gum up.

Moreover, it's inconvenient for motorists to have to fill two different tanks from two different pumps at the gas station. And who wants to pump gasoline into a tank that's located under the hood next to the hot engine?

To eliminate the need to use gasoline for cold starts, Brazilian automakers are now developing new fuel injection systems that preheat the ethanol. Bosch and Magnetti-Marelli have come up with glow plugs that are located in the fuel rail. This involves a slight delay of about six seconds before the engine can be cranked up. Delphi has come up with a new type of fuel injector that incorporates a heating element within the injector itself. And Denso is working on some kind of induction heating for injectors but so far not a lot of information has come out about this.

I just got back from Brazil where I got to drive an E-100 car (Ford Ecosport). If nobody told you it ran on E-100 you'd never know the difference.

Using ethanol generates passionate pro and con debate in the United States. But Brazil is well past the debating stage and is reaping the benefits of this energy policy.


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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      The problem with this ethanol thing is; if the US grew corn for ethanol on all its agricultural land surface there would only be enough fuel for one quarter of the cars on the road today. And nothing to eat.
      Brazil makes ethanol from sugar cane, which is far more productive, however, the price of sugar in Brazil has recently rocketed, causing riots. Add in the small fact that the sugar cane is grown on destroyed rain forest , and that it needs fertilizers, made from natural gas, to be productive, and you have a more complicated, and far less productive non-solution to the energy crisis.

      Sorry to be a realist here.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The US doesn't have to use it.

        But other countries will start buying it from us or the biostocks to make it themselves.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @ Colin Smith

        The problem with this electric car thing is those lead-acid batteries. They have a very low energy to mass ratio. Plus, you know how batteries need water top ups, well figuring an ev needs a lot batteries mean we all will get water on the interior electrical. Not good for electronics. Plus, there are so many people need the water and we selfishly use it in our cars. Does everyone know about the toxicity of lead? Some bad stuff there. Not sure of the acid used but I imagine it would be highly corrosive/toxic also.

        So that leaves the bunny and the coppertop and their linup of alkalines. Now imagine the ENTIRE interior covered in AA or AAA batteries. How long to change the batteries?

        Sorry to be a realist here
        • 5 Years Ago
        Very well put. And the off shore deposits, although very large (seemingly) will be massively expensive to exploit and go no way to compensating for the decline of older, larger and more productive fields elsewhere, like those in Saudi Arabia.

        The fact is, Brazil has a burgeoning population that of itself will kill economic expansion as it makes increasing demands for power that cannot be met. This is what is happening in the rest of the world and Brazil will be no different.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Colin Smith
        I totally agree and this is what has always been the matter with ethanol. There are things we can do to be more productive with it and not make it out of a food source, but still we’ll never be able to produce enough to fuel all of our vehicles.
        I don’t think that we should stop using it all together but know that it could never replace gas as the fuel that drives America.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Batteries? Electric cars?

        I am merely commenting on what I see as the fallacy of believing bio-fuels can in any meaningful way be a substitute for mineral oil. I don't have a solution that can allow us to carry on as usual. My belief is that the current economic downturn is more caused by the pressure on energy supplies than by the greed and incompetence of bankers and politicians. I am certain, however, that the car and consumption based economy which has obtained for the last one hundred and more years cannot continue, and we are now being hurt as it flails itself to death.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I admire the part about the trade surplus and the likely employment gains from self-investment. But as it was echoed above, at what long term cost? I don't see this as being sustainable for a country of 190 million people and growing.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Politics or no politics the bottom line is that they are not depending on a foreign source of oil. That is in any countries best national interest. PRICE should not always be the only consideration. Pres Carter started the same policy 30 some years ago. Regan came in and said gas is cheap we don't need another Govt. program and canceled it. Now we are going to be in a world of hurt if the middle east comes up with a excuse that they don't like us.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Since Brazil creates ethanol from sugarcane, it's far more efficient per acre than corn. From everyone's favorite source, wikipedia:

      Productivity per hectare (Sugar) 6,800-8,000 (Corn) 3,800-4,000
      Liters / hectare

      We're only using corn ethanol due to intensive lobbying by the farmers in this country...
        • 5 Years Ago
        Marvelous. Enough ethanol for HALF the cars on the road in the US.
        And no agricultural land for food to eat.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I am brazilian and I did my thesis on biofuels, specially ethanol and biodiesel.

      Some myths are perpetuated and people repeats them. One should talk about what they know.

      1 - There is no sugarcane industry-oriented in amazon forest WHATSOEVER. The climate is not apropriated for large scale sugarcane production. Brazil's sugarcane come from southeast (mostly São Paulo state) and from the poor northeast. Several thousand miles away from Amazon forest in both cases. Soybeans and meat are (minor) problems to the Amazon forest, not sugarcane.

      2 - There are no food riots in Brazil caused by food prices. Food in Brazil is cheap and abundant. Other poor countries had problems with food prices, like Egypt. Brazil didn't.

      3 - There was a controversial paper in Brazil, back in the 80's, stating that food was being replaced by sugarcane. The paper was wrong and several other researchers found that such a replacement was not happening.

      4 - Brazil never intended to achieve a 100% ethanol-propelled fleet. That's impossible. The intention has always been to reduce the historycal dependency on imported oil. Very recently Brazil achieved oil independence, and ethanol did his part of the job, along with the increased oil production. People buy more ethanol than gasoline in the gas stations nowadays.

      5 - Sugarcane ethanol from Brazil can compete with oil as long as the barrel price is above US$ 40. Gasoline is very heavy-taxed in Brazil, but that's not the only reason for ethanol's success. World oil prices have a lot to do with that, too.

      6 - Sugarcane ethanol has a large carbon fixation. The carbon cycle has a negative emission, meaning that more carbon is fixed during it's cycle than it's emitted.

      • 5 Years Ago
      "By committing heavily to ethanol, Brazil no longer imports oil to make fuel."

      A nice soundbite but it just ain't so.

      Brazil doesn't import oil to make fuel because Petrobras increased petroleum production by nearly 1 million bbl per day over the past 5 years, to 2.6 million bpd. Brazil this year overtook Venezuela as the largest oil producer in South America.

      Brazilian ethanol production is 450,000 bpd - one sixth that of petroleum by volume, less than one seventh by energy content.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Do some googling and you´ll see that all these discussions about Brazil and ethanol involve a bunch of americans making unbelievable odd "facts" about a country they clearly never set a foot on.

        That until some brazilian steps in and states the REAL facts!

        Then the discussion abruptly ends, as it is becomes obvious that none of those people could compete with a local when it comes to knowing the facts.

        But the hard fact remains: we americans are just too proud to admit that a country that we consider "3rd world" beat us at something that we try to achieve for decades.

        And we will not achieve it if we just continue just throwing "facts" taken from our fertile imagination instead of just facing the REAL ones!
        • 5 Years Ago
        Dan do you know that Brazil exports about 10% of its crude oil to the US. They do not use all that they are producing.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Whether or not it is long-term viable is less of an issue when the trading surplus and cash used from this can be reinvested into other forms of energy --- making Brazil MORE energy independent. The truth of the matter is, A.) there is no 1 single solution to the issue B.) The US was too far gone MANY years ago on its drunken oil binge to be saved C.) Sadly, at this point, the US doesn't have the money, the will, the leadership, the direction, or the insight to take the DRASTIC steps needed to get away from foreign oil D.) The oil companies rule our economy from start to finish...
      • 5 Years Ago
      Remember last years food riots?
        • 5 Years Ago
        there were NO riots: just where did you take that garbage from?
      • 5 Years Ago
      To each his own.
      Brazil is a sovereign nation and can decide what it wants to do alleviate the pain of imported oil. We all talk of rain forests and what not...but will any one of us(developed nations) share clean technology(whatever that might be in future) for little or no fee in the name of saving the planet?

      I didn't think so..at least they're doing something, unlike us sitting around like bums. Has the US govt. ever heard of high speed rail? Irrespective of where the electricity comes from, the collective savings we make from transporting people and goods using efficient methods will save billions over time and save the planet too. But the car industry lobbyists wouldn't let that happen, would they?

      I am a car enthusiast(that's why I'm here), but traveling thousands of miles in your car for whatever reason (moving, road trip etc.) is just plain crazy.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I dunno, commuting in a blown alchohol Camaro would be a hoot.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I think developing spark ignited (SI) E100 engine is retarded (E100 is actually E95 since ethanol is highly hygroscopic, ie retains water). Ethanol serves as an excellent Diesel-cycle fuel... and it's already been done.
      Swedish tuner BSR demostrated an E100 converted 9-3 1.9l DIESEL (Thats an GM/Fiat engine for you and me) producing 195hp and 400nm torque.. and while maintaining approx 50mpg while running on E100. No particle emission, co2 emissions cut by 95%.. all other emissions greatly reduced.
      The problem? We have no E100 gas infrastructure in Sweden (only E85) and E100 cars are not road-leagal yet..
      • 5 Years Ago
      For those who feel to start talking about how OBVIOUSLY we won't utilize lead acid or alkaline please save your deflections for that Colin Smith guy. He's the one that started with these silly interjections of some old-school technology and the negative implications associated with them.

      Seriously Colin, you think after the really smart galls and guys pointed out these negtive implications they never stopped to consider "ALTERNATIVE(S) SOURCES" and/or technologies.

      Cause the "realist" in you is so far behind the times that I decided to throw in some similar era technologies so maybe you'd just stop talkin (posting).

      See Colin there is this thing called "THE OCEAN" (actually we have acouple of 'em. Isn't that grand?!!?!) and it is filled with "CELLULOSIC FEEDSTOCKS". Pay attention here Colin, [cellulosic feedstock].

      Seems there is so much God given "feedstock" (and it auto replenishes) that we can just be (waistful) bastards. [Anyone please spell the word correctly for me].

      By the way, I think Sacrementoe85 has a few choice words for your fearmongering misrepresentations of "reality". Or is your "reality" the kind we watch on tv?? I'm thinking you've an illustrious career at FoxNewsNetwork.

      Apologies to SacramentoE85 for implying words in your mouth, but this dude set me off in exactly the kind of way your post mentions.

        • 5 Years Ago

        I'm not exactly certain what you are getting at here. I never mentioned batteries, lead/acid or any others. Why does the word 'acid' resonate?
        You go on to mention cellulosic feedstocks and the ocean. Are you meaning algae? I'm sorry, but I can't follow your argument.

        All I said was that ethanol is not going to be the saviour of motoring as we know it. You can forget hydrogen, it has to be manufactured, and electricity has to be generated. In any case, the vehicle stock takes fifteen years to replenish, and I believe the time scale is more pressing than that.

        This (oil supply) is the most serious problem facing all of us, and a blind faith in any one minor player, like ethanol, should not be allowed to blind us to the reality.

        I believe John McElroy offers a false hope in his article; simple as that.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @ Colin Smith

        1st off I would like to complement you on your ability to control your words. Many aspects that get discussed/debated/argued tend to degenerate rather quickly to insultfests. We don't need to like each other, we don't need to agree even slightly. Fact is you obviously have some things to say and you did in a relatively controlled manner. GOOD ON YA. I mean this Colin. I think it really blows when people like you and me waste postes trying to jab barbs such as "learn to spell f***ing idiot" or "learn to type". My or your, or anyone elses comments should not lose credibility because of a typo/spelling mistake or my personal favorite-- people whose english is their fourth language but because they are not fluent at english they get trashtalked. someone can speak 4 languages and gets called an idiot. So again Colin Smith GOOD ON YA for not being one of those people.

        Now onto the rebuttal. I will leave more space between words so things have time to sink in. K?!!?

        You said things such as ethanol coming from foodsources (ie. corn, sugar beets,) and how using these supplies results in lower supply- higher demand and up goes the price of corn(or sugar beets etc.
        1 The smart galls and guys are aware of this which is why i pointed this out. If someone suffering "acid resonance" can grasp supply/demand price relations then so can the smart galls and guys.
        2 Which is why the smart galls and guys are developing cellulosic feedstocks from other sources. If the ethanol does not come from the corn then corn prices won't go up.
        3. Am I talking about algae?? Does it really matter? Maybe there are other sources yet to be discovered. The players in the industry are spending BIG $$$$ to find ways to convert cellulose dense crops not sugar dense crops. Because Exxon might be "evil" but they are not dumb.
        4 Price of foodstock goes up because the corn-sugarbeets-squash is being used for fuel. The blackmarket would thrive on stealing the corn-sugarbeets etc. Again, the smart galls and guys are aware of this. It would make their supply source too unstable. which is why cellulosic feedstocks are preferred. No one is gonna steal a truck of algae/moss etc.
        5. I am aware you did not mention batteries and such. Colin, I even said straight up that the reason I brought up those points was to point out how out of the times your comments and arguments were. I said that straight out in my post so if you have trouble following the logic when it is even explained, well then....? Not much I can do for you there.

        Ethanol WILL BE THE SAVIOUR because it can come from a limitless supply source. That would be the algae in the oceans. The ANNUAL summer bloom that occurs in Lake Erie would be one massive supply source. Throw in the red tides that occur off the costs and you are well on your way to suppling the demand for fuel.

        Again Colin, I said it straight out in my posts that my comments were meant to display how out of the times your arguments are.

        I don't expect to change your beliefs. But for your own benefit please utilize up to date rebuttals to support your beliefs. The smart girls and boys realize and in fact agree with you that ethanol sourced from corn or such can not meet our requirements without some negative results. Having to convert almost all farmland to the purpose of growing our ethanol
        source stocks to meet demand. Food price increases. Fuel shortages following poor growing years. I agree with you on those points also.

        So the next thing the smart girls and boys do is ask themselves where else they could get ethanol from. And the answer they got was cellulose

        And it turns out that is a great idea, which conveniently enough negates all the concerns and negative implications that you and the smart girls and boys pointed out regarding ethanol from sugar.

        Can you follow my point Colin?
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