The Brazilian government has rolled back the anhydrous ethanol blend level in gasoline from 25% to 20% for a period of 90 days, effective 1 February. The decision to roll back the blend level was announced following a meeting attended by executives from the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA).
Blend reductions are not new in Brazil, UNICA said; the last reduction occurred in March of 2006, when the percentage fell from 25% to 20%. The blend level was raised to 23% in November of that year, and fully reinstated at 25% in July of 2007.
Under Brazilian federal law, the anhydrous ethanol content of all gasoline sold in the country must be between 20% and 25%. The blend range is set by an interagency board (Conselho Interministerial de Acucar e do Alcool, or CIMA). The 5% reduction in the blend is expected to result in an additional 100 million liters (26.4 million gallons) of hydrous ethanol available per month, or around 7% of the current monthly demand.
Hydrous ethanol is pure ethanol (E100) used in flex-fuel vehicles, which run on any mix of ethanol and gasoline. The blend reduction involves anhydrous ethanol, which is the type of ethanol that is mixed with gasoline. While hydrous ethanol contains about 5% water content, anhydrous ethanol is virtually water-free. Hydrous ethanol is the more popular fuel in Brazil.
The government’s reasons for the temporary reduction are understandable, but the move must be limited to the 90-day period only. Because of high prices, consumers who own flex-fuel vehicles are already shifting from hydrous ethanol back to gasoline, so there is no risk of pumps going dry.
Dropping the blend requirement is unlikely to change the dynamics of the cane industry, which will continue to produce more ethanol and more sugar year after year. All that changed this year was the pace of that increase because of unseasonable rains that affected the harvest.
—UNICA’s Technical Director, Antonio de Padua Rodrigues
Padua noted that the government should be praised for its open dialogue with the industry and for setting a timeframe for the measure, with reinstatement of the 25% blend happening as the sugarcane industry launches what will be the largest sugarcane harvest in Brazil’s history.
The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) represents the top producers of sugar and ethanol in the country’s South-Central region, especially the state of Sao Paulo, which accounts for about 50% of the country’s sugarcane harvest and 60% of total ethanol production. In 2008, Brazil produced an estimated 565 million metric tons of sugarcane, which yielded 31.3 million tons of sugar and 25.7 billion liters (6.8 billion gallons) of ethanol.