Sugar In My Tank

Sugar Cane

I’ve been following transportation and energy news for quite some time–and it seems impossible to see real change in our lifetimes. Yes, we see new technology, we experience glimmers of hope, but ultimately nothing changes. That’s why recent news in Brazil is so exciting. World economy is built upon energy infrastructure–and that means oil. For transportation, though, there is a simple fix.

Progress in efficiency–or lack thereof–in the automotive sector is huge indicator that the forces that be like us staying under 30 miles per gallon. For the last thirty years we have seen no real change in fuel economy despite the computer revolution. What a statistic! VW Rabbits in 1975 got 50mpg, and today GM touts that it has more products than any other manufacturer that gets almost 30. Progress?

Sugar Cane

But I digress. The big story today is that one nation, Brazil is nearing energy independence, meaning they will not have to import oil. How is this possible? They have been quietly moving towards running their cars on alcohol, since the Oil Crisis in 1973. Made from crops, this ‘crazy’ nation imagines that they can kick their oil habit. And in fact they have.

Larry Rohter in the NY Times reports that “Brazil is satisfying its fuel needs with a big boost from sugar cane. In an article dated April 10, he writes:

“At the dawn of the automobile age, Henry Ford predicted that “ethyl alcohol is the fuel of the future. With petroleum about $65 a barrel, President Bush has now embraced that view, too. But Brazil is already there.

This country expects to become energy self-sufficient this year, meeting its growing demand for fuel by increasing production from petroleum and ethanol. Already the use of ethanol, derived in Brazil from sugar cane, is so widespread that some gas stations have two sets of pumps, marked A for alcohol and G for gas.”

It’s a good thing we live the United States where such flights of fancy border on the impossible. Why, where would a country such as ours find the means to grow huge crops of weeds like sugar cane or switch grass (as President Bush recently remarked) to be used for fuel? Madness, I say.

I can hardly believe such a thing possible and am heartened by the actions of the Brazilian nation. To see in this new world order that a nation can put its own interests ahead of world trade is a sign that the human spirit might yet triumph. While burning alcohol is certainly not the perfect means to ease pollution and global warming, it certainly would do wonders for our economy and energy security interests. And it is a first step that I wish our brave nation could make.

Has government and industry degraded our future aspirations in disastrous energy strategy? Do we trade energy independence for global economy? US farms could be, should be, producing whatever crop it takes to fuel our cars and trucks, and anything else is just, to me, un-American.

In this best of all possible worlds, it is an amazing leap Brazil has made. But, will we have to move to Iowa* to get “flex fuel” in our tanks?

Some articles of interest
Brazil Sees Ethanol as Its New Economic Frontier
Homegrown Fuel Suply Helps Brazil Breath Easy

* Note: I love Iowa