Brazil to Launch Ambitious Biofuels Program


Building, in part, on the successes and lessons learned from two signature American policies, Brazil is poised to launch a government program that will support the continued development and use of low-carbon, clean biofuels. This new initiative, dubbed RenovaBio, will play a key role in meeting Brazil’s ambitious commitments made at the Paris climate summit in December 2015.

Brazil pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 43 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. Achieving that goal will require biofuels to supply approximately 18 percent of the country’s energy mix by 2030 through greater sugar cane ethanol production, expanded second-generation biofuels and additional biodiesel for transportation.

Ethanol and bioenergy produced from sugar cane already constitute 15.7 percent of Brazil’s energy mix, replacing more than 40 percent of gasoline demand and avoiding 600 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions since the beginning of the ethanol program in the 1970s. Growing to 18 percent in a developing country is a reasonable target, but the right incentives and policies will be necessary to support this progress. That’s where RenovaBio comes in.

Brazilian drivers today consume ethanol in two ways. First, all gasoline sold in Brazil is required to contain 27 percent ethanol. Second, most Brazilians drive flex-fuel vehicles allowing ethanol to compete directly with gasoline on price at the pump. But Brazilian consumers have enjoyed subsidized gasoline prices for many years, which weakens demand for ethanol. RenovaBio will alter this dynamic and encourage fuel distributors to boost sales of ethanol versus gasoline by requiring them to lend a hand meeting GHG reduction goals.

The Brazilian biofuel program is expected to incorporate two elements that will be familiar to American policymakers and industry representatives.

Similar to California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, RenovaBio will assign a carbon intensity rating to the specific biofuel produced at each mill. This system will reward producers who invest in manufacturing biofuels as cleanly and efficiently as possible.

Fuel distributors will then be encouraged to buy more of this clean biofuel through a credit trading program that works much like renewable identification numbers (RINs) under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard. With RenovaBio, distributors will be required to purchase Emissions Reductions Certificates (or CBIOs in Portuguese). Mills that produce fuels with low carbon intensity rankings will receive a larger allotment of CBIOs than mills producing fuels with higher carbon intensity.

Just as the U.S. EPA is required to publish renewable volume obligations annually, Brazil’s National Economic Policy Council (CNPE) will adjust the number of available CBIOs and distributor purchasing requirements each year. Fuel producers and distributors will then be allowed to buy and sell CBIOs on the open market, introducing a new price signal that places a value on low carbon emissions.

RenovaBio enjoys support not only from biofuel producers but also Brazil’s automotive sector. Earlier this year, UNICA and our country’s national association of automobile manufacturers, Anfavea, signed a joint memorandum aligning each industry’s strategies for delivering efficient transportation that meets Brazil’s commitments under the Paris climate agreement.

Informed observers expect action soon—either by Brazil’s congress or an announcement by Brazilian President Michel Temer issuing what is essentially an executive order to implement the program—that will clarify many key details. What is clear already, however, is that RenovaBio will be another evolution in smart biofuels policy that deserves emulation by other countries.

Last year in this space, I argued that successfully meeting Brazil’s climate commitments will depend on three fundamental pillars: predictable policy, sustainable production and technological innovation. With RenovaBio, Brazil’s government will take a major step forward on the first pillar. Meanwhile, biofuel producers remain laser focused on the second and the third. Working together, we can make a cleaner, lower-carbon future possible for our children and grandchildren.

NOTE: This article originally appeared in the December issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine.

Leticia Phillips

Leticia Phillips

Leticia Phillips is UNICA’s Representative for North America. Ms. Phillips is an expert on Brazil-US relations and leads the Brazilian sugarcane industry’s advocacy efforts before the main stakeholders in the region, including the US Congress, Federal agencies, State legislators and business and civil society.