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The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras) announced today that they have signed an agreement that could accelerate the development and international commercialization of biofuels.  The announcement was made at the International Biofuels Conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The NREL/Petrobras agreement will help achieve the goals of the United States and Brazil memorandum of understanding to advance cooperation on biofuels signed by the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Brazil Foreign Minister Celso Amorim on March 9, 2007. “

By bringing Brazilian expertise together with some of the leading U.S. biofuels researchers at NREL, we will increase our knowledge and be able to more quickly commercialize renewable biofuels in the global marketplace,” said NREL Director Dan E. Arvizu.

Petrobras and NREL have common interests in the development of advanced next generation biofuels technologies through biochemical and thermochemical routes from biomass.  NREL conducts R&D related to technoeconomic, environmental and sustainability evaluation of advanced biofuels in support of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and other partners.

Petrobras’ research and development center (CENPES) conducts research on bagasse to ethanol, vegetable oil conversion to diesel oil components (H-Bio) and production of biomass-derived petroleum-like fuels using thermochemical technologies.

“The use of residues can substantially increase ethanol production without a correspondent increase of the planted area, boosting the existing process’ production by using its own residues,” said CENPES Executive Manager, Carlos Tadeu da Costa Fraga.

The agreement identifies four major areas of advanced biofuels research collaboration: biochemical production processes, thermochemical processes, economic and sustainability analysis from lignocellulosic biomass and evaluation of intermediate blends of ethanol and gasoline. (source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

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The Washington Post today compares the biofuel industry in the US and in Brazil. If on one side the American public opinion is in doubt about ethanol’s green credentials, the tecnology in Brazil has overcome all the obstacle and today produces a greener, cheap alternative to gasoline. The production of ethanol in the South American giant is the most efficient in the world and Brazilians consume more of it than gas.

According to a report released in June by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, ethanol from sugar cane is the cleanest fuel in the world, with its production and consumption reducing emissions of greenhouse gases by up to 90 percent compared with gasoline. The process of transforming sugar cane into ethanol requires eight times less energy than corn.

Unlike corn, which accounts for the bulk of U.S. ethanol, sugar cane is also grown in areas where it is less likely to compete with grains such as wheat or other varieties of maize that are vital to global food supplies. Sugar-based ethanol’s negligible impact on world food supplies is one of the major reasons it has been embraced without controversy in Brazil, even as critics in the United States have assailed their domestic corn-based industry for driving up global grain prices.

Sugar ethanol is also more efficient. The cost of producing ethanol from corn is three times the cost of ethanol from sugar cane. An acre of sugar cane can also yield more than twice as much ethanol as an acre of corn.

Read the article in full here.

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Asked about the current global financial meltdown, Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, answered: “What crisis?”. This was not a dismissive response. It was a fact. Brazil rock-solid stability protected the country against the turmoil. As a Reuters news report has rightly remarked, commodity-rich and with $ 200 billion in foreign reserves Brazil has proved it has done its homework.

Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of biofuels, including ethanol. But it is not only the high price of commodities which is sustaining the Brazilian economy. The country’s financial system has lower debt, a respectable fiscal policy and a central bank with more autonomy than many others in West Europe. If this wasn’t enough, Brazil became a net creditor this year a direct consequence from amassing more reserves than foreign debt.

Another proof of Brazil’s economical strength came today with a record jobless rates, published by Bloomberg News:

Unemployment in Brazil’s six largest metropolitan areas fell to 7.6 percent last month, down from down from 8.1 percent in July, the national statistics agency said today. The jobless rate was lower than the median forecast of 8 percent in a Bloomberg survey of 19 economists. Brazil’s companies have been adding jobs at a record pace, fueling a surge in income that contributed to second-quarter economic growth of 6.1 percent.

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