Elon International Studies: Brazil



Meet the Crew

Life in a Favela

Adventures in the

Black, White, and in
Between: Diversity
in Brazil


Biodiversity in the Amazon

Samba School

Favela Tour Opens Students' Eyes

Quality of Life
in Brazil

A Country that Runs
on Alcohol

Racial Inequality in

Ancient Indian
Remedy, New
Western Craze

Maracana Stadium

The Amazon


A Dish With Many Tastes

The Music and Dance
of Brazil as seen in
the Samba Schools

without Language

Fixing the
Race Problem

If an Entire Species is
Destroyed Before its
Discovered, Did it
Ever Exist?

The Beauty of Buzios

Salvador's Afro-
Brazilian Culture

Health Care and
Concerns in Brazil


Cristo Redentor

GST 243 Homepage

2004 Archives

A Country that Runs on Alcohol

John Clark


      Until we traveled to Brazil , I thought the only vehicles using alcohol as a fuel were high performance racecars. The benefits of alcohol in racing applications are its high octane and cool burning temperature. Another advantage to using alcohol in racing is its ability to be put out with water, unlike gasoline which only spreads with water. I was very surprised to learn about a completely different automobile market and gasoline alternative unique to Brazil . I believe this is the fuel source of the future due to depleting oil resources, ease of alcohol production, and environmental benefits.

Alcohol is an ideal fuel option in Brazil for many reasons including environmental cleanliness and cost. The harvesting of sugarcane is another reason why Brazil is leading the alcohol car industry. Brazil has large amounts of cultivable land and fertile soul making the model environment for growing sugarcane. Developing a fuel source which exploits the country's large sugarcane surplus is a smart idea. Sugarcane can be distilled into ethanol or ethyl alcohol, the same type of alcohol used in drinks. So pouring a bottle of Cachaca into the fuel tank would work but not be good for the engine. Alcohol is much cleaner burning than gasoline and diesel fuel. This dramatically cuts down on air pollution in major cities. Rio de Janeiro and Salvador were heavily congested with cars but lacked the smog of a typical US city. Noise pollution is also reduced because ethanol cars run much quieter than the average American gasoline automobile. Since sugarcane is so prevalent in Brazil , ethyl alcohol is a very inexpensive alternative to gasoline and diesel fuel. Sugarcane is easy to grow and process, making it a renewable fuel source. Besides being used in cars and Cachaca, electricity, sugar, and industrial heating are all products of the cane.1 Ethyl alcohol cars have another added benefit of producing more torque than gasoline cars. Cars can more easily proceed up steep inclines, with the added torque, at lower revolution per minute. Since the engine is running at a lower speed, it is using less fuel which increases the fuel efficiency or gas mileage. Many of the roads in the country are very steep and long because of the mountainous terrain making ethanol cars a very effective way to get around.

The way people in Brazil drive makes drivers in the United States look bad. Riding around in taxis, which are all run on ethanol, was a very new and exciting experience. Every taxi ride was a guaranteed thrill. You can learn a lot about a cultural when you analyze how they drive. Brazil drivers are not aggressive like drivers of the US . They are much more patient and controlled. Road-rage was never a problem, yet people frequently cut one-another off. There was a great presence of road etiquette which is not found in the States. Our cab drivers never got frustrated with the traffic, and other drivers did not seem to either. Altogether they seemed to have a much more relaxed and enjoyable approach to driving.

Throughout our stay in Brazil , I saw very few speed limit signs. There are a lot less restrictions in all parts of Brazil life, including traffic laws, when compared to the US . Drivers have a greater responsibility for maintaining a safe driving speed and control over their vehicles. In addition, drivers did not pay attention to lane markings, frequently drifting back and fourth between lanes. Also, not once did I see someone getting pulled over for a driving infraction. The traffic in Brazil moved like a school of fish, everyone anticipating the next driver's move. Seeing as how people drove in Brazil , I would have thought there would be a lot of accidents? The whole month I was in Brazil , I did not see any sign of one. I conclude Brazilians are very good drivers.

The Brazilian automobile market is going to continue to expand. It is gaining much international attention from countries who want an alternative to oil. “Exports of alcohol made from sugarcane are expected to increase from 800 million litres last year to two billion litres this year”. 2 Even in the Midwest and California , ethyl and gasoline mixtures are being used to cut back on pollution. Germany just signed an agreement with Brazil to import 100,000 alcohol based cars. 3 The United States needs to further recognize the great potential of alcohol. It would benefit the US like it has done Brazil . It is important for the US to take steps to eliminate its dependency on oil and look for alternative fuel sources like other country are beginning to do. Brazil is a great example of a country which has already taken a large stride in the right direction.


1 Alcohol Fuel. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

2 Mario Osava de Tierramrica. BRAZIL : A BIO-ENERGY SUPERPOWER IN THE MAKING. Global Information Network. New York : Nov 4, 2004. pg.1

3 Brazil and Germany sign agreement for 100,000 alcohol-motor cars. Emerging Markets Economy. London : Apr 8, 2003. pg. 1