Sugarcane plants

​FCA advocates using ethanol for mobility with less impact on the environment

FCA Latam’s Regulatory and Compliance Affairs Director advocated for investments in the ethanol chain at the 2019 Ethanol Summit

June 24, 2019 - "Ethanol and the flex fleet are strategic factors for FCA and Brazil," said João Irineu Medeiros, FCA's Regulatory and Compliance Affairs Director for Latin America at the 2019 Ethanol Summit, a forum to discuss biofuels and other renewable energy sources. Launched in 2007 by the Union of Sugarcane Industries (UNICA), this summit is one of the main events on the subject in the world and it happens every two years.

At the forum, government authorities, researchers, investors, suppliers and entrepreneurs from Brazil and the world share information and research findings on the topic and seek the best solutions for the future. This year’s São Paulo event was comprised of 150 speakers and moderators, with 20 thematic panels and four plenary sessions, for a total of 1,200 participants who engaged in the debates on biofuels, bioelectricity, mobility, public policies, infrastructure, sugar and international trade.

As an FCA representative at the event, João Irineu explained that ethanol is decisive for Brazil not only because it complies with the strict international standards of CO2 emissions, but also because it takes advantage of the country's vocation and the investments made in this technology in the last 40 years. For him, "ethanol is a strategic fuel for technological evolution for mobility with less environmental impact".

There is much talk on electrification as a solution to the problem of emissions, but it’s important to remember that its production also generates emissions. Countries with clean energy matrices can really benefit, but others not so much. After all, what is the point of transferring vehicle emissions to coal or oil plants, for example?

This is where ethanol has its main advantage, according to João Irineu. "When considering the well-to-wheel concept (in this case from field-to-wheel), the use of ethanol is highly efficient from the point of view of emissions. This is because sugarcane, as a plant, absorbs between 70% and 80% of the CO2 released when burning ethanol", he explains.

Alexandre Manoel during his speech

And this percentage tends to improve as new technologies are already under development to increase the energy value of biofuels and engine efficiency, among others. "The agro-energy chain is focused on producing fuels more efficiently with a stable and predictable supply. The automotive sector, and FCA in particular, are committed to increasing the energy efficiency of ethanol combustion", he declared. The energy gap between ethanol and gasoline today is about 30%. That is, gasoline can offer 30% more energy than ethanol. "We are working to reduce this gap, using new concepts and new technology, some with their own patent", says João.

Among the features being worked on are calibration, cold start, air-fuel ratio, direct injection, turbocharging and thermodynamic improvement. With these advances, ethanol will gain even more relevance than it already has and will become strategic for the technological evolution of mobility with less impact on the environment.

But there is still a lot of work to be done together. The specifications for the fuel need to be improved such as reducing water content, for example. Ethanol´s second generation is still under development. With advancements in these areas, the use of ethanol in the energy matrix of mobility can be expanded, leading to improvements in the chain of vehicle consumption and thus reduce the level of CO2 emissions.

At the event, the Secretary of Evaluation, Planning, Energy and Lottery of the Brazilian Ministry of Economy, Alexandre Manoel da Silva, stated that the government will not interfere in the price of ethanol and intends to withdraw the regulatory restrictions within the sector. "Bioenergy production is an example of efficiency, with very few losses", he said. In 2020, the RenovaBio program will come into effect in the country, which foresees an annual investment of R$13 billion in the sector. Another program, Rota 2030, defined the rules for manufacturing cars produced or marketed in Brazil to encourage improvements in energy efficiency and reduce pollutants. Manufacturers that increase the efficiency of ethanol powered cars will have advantages.

For João, it’s up to Brazil to continue leading the development of ethanol. "Brazil has four decades of accumulated technology in the production of ethanol fuel and the vehicles that use it. Intensifying the option towards ethanol is a smart decision that takes into account the immense productive, logistics and distribution platform already in place in the country". In fact, Brazil has several advantages regarding this development. It has available space for planting sugarcane, knowledge of ethanol’s production technology, a consolidated distribution chain, flex engines in more than 85% of the light vehicles produced in the country and so on. In 2018, ethanol comprised one third of the total volume of fuels sold in Brazil. With the enhancement of technology, this percentage has everything it needs to increase. "We need to invest time, money and intelligence in this, and only Brazil can do it. No other country has an asset of this importance and magnitude", he argued. "For this we need a strategic agenda shared between government, companies, universities and society", he defended. “Ethanol will be viable even at the strict regulatory levels planned for 2022, it will be a competitive fuel for hybrid vehicles and can become the basis of efficient fuel cells", he concluded.

Words: Daniel Schneider

Pictures: Marketing

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