As home of the world’s leading sugar-based ethanol fuel programme, Brazil is seeking to export its experience into Africa through a Global Sustainable Biofuels (GSB) initiative designed to spread alternative energy usage throughout developing nations.
The Bio Energy in Africa Workshop is part of GSB and is being held April 1st-5th at South Africa’s Kruger National Park and then in the Mozambique capital, revives an initiative launched back in 2010.
This has gathered support from the Netherlands-based Bio-Based, Ecologically Balanced Sustainable Industrial Chemistry (BE-Basic) research network and the Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) of the USA. The initiative sets biofuels usage within a broader context of food security, sustainabile energy usage, and equitable use of land and labour.
Already, Brazil has hosted a series of conventions to widen bio-based fuel usage across Latin America and the Caribbean. Now comes Africa’s turn, because Brazil sees the continent (along with Latin America) as being most suitable for bio-based energy production because of available arable land.
“The world has nearly 440 million hectares of land for agricultural use, 60% of which is in Latin America – 150 million hectares in Brazil alone – and 40% of which is in Africa. Other regions have very little room to increase their agricultural frontier,” explained Luís Augusto Barbosa Cortez of the University of Campinas, and a member of the executive board of the GSB.
The Brazilian initiative comes from São Paulo — the heart of the nation’s sugar and ethanol production and the centre for technologies such as genome sequencing of sugar cane. These have helped to dramatically increase productivity, putting Brazil’s ethanol-producing cost base far below the larger but heavily subsidized maize-based industry in the United States.
In Brazil, Global Sustainable Biofuels (GSB) is funded by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), a state-funded body that is financing studies at leading universities and cooperation with local industry. Its BIOEN ethanol fuel programme is one of its three flagship research initiatives. FAPESP and BE-Basic operate joint research programmes .
Although Africa – notably Angola – has abundant oil resources, the development of alternative fuels priced in local currencies could spur a new phase of sustainable economic development in the continent, without displacing much-needed food production.
GSB’s remit is to help nations reach the point where 23% of primary energy supply in emerging economies can come from biofuels, while at the same time leaving undisturbed the capacity of feeding humanity and meeting other needs from managed lands, preserving wildlife habitat, and maintaining environmental quality.
That Brazilians should now be sharing their leading-edge technology in alternative fuels with South Africa comes as something of an historic irony.
During the 1960s and 1970s South Africa and its national oil company SASOL emerged as the world leader in an oil-from-coal energy production technique developed in wartime Germany, and which was used to beat the international oil boycott imposed on the country because of the apartheid policies of that era. Brazil was always, even during its period of military rule, a robust opponent of apartheid.
The South Africa and Mozambique conferences are not open to the media, but you can read a release about the event, which contains additional comments on its objectives and strategy from Luís Augusto Barbosa Cortez by clicking here.