Brazil’s energy program could teach US

Jody Serrano

Editor’s note: Some portions of this interview were translated from Portuguese and Spanish.

Renowned Brazilian energy mogul Rubens Ometto Silveira Mello encouraged the U.S. to develop a green energy partnership with Brazil to increase the world’s energy sources and protect the environment in a lecture Thursday night.

Mello spoke as a part of the “Faces of the Americas/Rostros de las Américas,” a lecture sponsored by the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies at the Harry Ransom Center. Mello spoke on the history of Brazil’s energy consumption and the emergence of cleaner energy based on biofuels. Mello said he hoped President Obama’s trip to Brazil this past March would inspire a partnership between the two countries to help America become more energy-independent.

“One country cannot have an advantage over the other,” Mello said. “One can complete the other one, there are some advances they have that we don’t.”

Mello said the introduction of corn-based ethanol in the U.S. was a very important step for the country in terms of renewable energy but that there was still more that could be done. Mello said 48 percent of Brazil’s current energy comes from renewable sources. In comparison, the U.S. uses about 8 percent of renewable energy to meet its energy needs, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“Some people criticized [the introduction of ethanol to U.S. markets],” Mello said. “But the U.S. did a very good thing. It showed America and it showed the world that ethanol worked.”

Mello is currently head of Cosan, a Brazilian-based energy company that revolutionized the use of ethanol and helped make renewable energy more accessible in Brazil. Cosan recently joined with energy giant Shell to produce over 2 million liters of ethanol from sugar cane.

Marco Munoz, assistant director of the IC^2 Institute, said Brazil is 30 years ahead of us in terms of renewable energy, referencing the 1973 Arab oil embargo. Brazil imported 90 percent of its oil at this time and oil prices for Brazil rose from three dollars a barrel to $12. Brazil declared energy independence and turned to its sugarcane-based ethanol industry in the time of crisis and has relied heavily on the source ever since.

“Corn-based ethanol is not efficient because it affects the U.S. and world food supply,” Munoz said. “If the U.S. is dedicated to finding a cleaner source of energy, sugarcane-based ethanol is the way to go.”

Geosciences professor William Fisher spoke alongside Mello at the lecture and said the U.S. should follow Brazil’s lead on sustainable energy. Fisher has been traveling to Brazil since the 1970s and was in Brazil during the Arab oil embargo.

Fisher said in order to become more energy independent the U.S. needs to remove the tariffs and subsidies on Brazilian ethanol.

“Brazil has a very good product and they have a lot of investments in [renewable] technology,” Fisher said. “When they kill a hog, they eat everything but the squeal.” 

Printed on Friday, October 21st, 2011 as: Brazil's energy program could teach US