Brazil’s efforts in science and technology only emerged in the last 40 years and investment in it increased by a factor of 10 in just the last 10 years. Until recently, their Minister of Science and Technology was Sérgio Rezende (2005–2010), a materials researcher himself. He recently addressed questions from MRS Bulletin representative Guillermo Solórzano for Energy Quarterly about Brazil’s plans for the energy challenges ahead.
It is well known that Brazil has invested in renewable energy sources such as hydro and biofuels “long before the issues of a low-carbon economy entered the global agenda,” Rezende said. By the mid-1980s ethanol had replaced over 30% of gasoline there. Yet, Brazil does not rely only on biofuels. All possible energy sources are needed, Rezende said, and their aim is to achieve the lowest possible cost to allow economic growth at reasonably high rates for the majority of the population. Brazil has been developing offshore petroleum along with environmental remediation, stimulating the private sector to deploy wind farms, and pursuing a nuclear energy program. Rezende said that with only 30% of its territory prospected, Brazil has the sixth largest world reserve of uranium mineral. Brazil has self-sufficiency in the exploration, mining, processing, and production of uranium oxide (yellowcake); the production of powder and tablets; and the fabrication of fuel elements; and expects to become self-sufficient in uranium enrichment by 2015, he said.
In the area of biofuels, after the expansion of ethanol from sugarcane into the 1980s, the amount of ethanol used in the 1990s declined when subsidies were lifted, Rezende said. Then in 2003 flexible-fuel vehicles were introduced, making biofuels competitive again. Now over 90% of cars manufactured in Brazil are flex-fuel and more ethanol is used for fuel than gasoline. Rezende also said that while Brazil has plenty of sugarcane to produce ethanol using conventional methods, they also have a major effort in producing cellulosic ethanol, estimating that conversion efficiency can be increased by about 30% by using the stalks and leaves of the plants and also improving fermentation technology.
Elizabeth L. Fleischer, Principal Development Editor
Materials Research Society (MRS)