Filed by Steve Ritter
We are back in the U.S. now, and this is the final post for our Brazil blog. Over the past 10 days, Erika and I have chronicled a tour of Brazilian biofuels research centers and production facilities, along with a concluding symposium that set a goal of developing a shared road map for Brazilian-U.S. collaboration on biofuels research.
I could recap the highlights of our trip here, but I think it’s better simply to direct you to the beginning of the blog and let you take a few minutes to read through the entries yourself. You also can follow this link to read a C&EN story on the symposium.
One thing I never got around to doing in the blog is to point out the many historical similarities between Brazil and the U.S. Both countries began as colonies to European powers and were taken advantage of for their natural resources and abundant land suitable for agriculture. The colonists and their expansion essentially destroyed the cultures of the indigenous peoples and assimilated them into a European-style culture—a mostly British influence in the U.S. and an Iberian influence in Brazil.
Both countries played a significant part in the African slave trade. Both countries gained their independence, the U.S. in 1776 and Brazil in 1822, and both abolished slavery in the second half of the 19th century. Both countries have struggled with civil rights for minorities, immigration, and equal rights for all citizens.
One difference between the two countries is the outcome: the U.S. has emerged as the leading economic power in the world, whereas Brazil continues to climb to the top as an “advanced developing country.”
The important similarity between the two countries now is that the U.S. and Brazil are world leaders in agriculture at a time when biomass conversion to fuels and chemicals is set to change the global economy. I think it’s safe to say that very good people in both countries are working to address issues that are critical for moving biofuels development forward, but Brazil is well ahead of the U.S. in its efforts.
Edwin S. Olson (shown left, speaking), a professor at the University of North Dakota and chair of the ACS Division of Fuel Chemistry, gave me a succinct analysis on this point. The Brazilians are visionary and innovative on biofuels, whereas in the U.S., people are too conservative, Olson told me about halfway through our tour. I interpret this as meaning that in Brazil everyone seems willing to work together to systematically develop a biofuels industry, but in the U.S., the capitalist approach in which different entities look out for their own interests—driven by the desire to protect intellectual property—is stifling innovation.
VARIETY A fuel station in Brazil offers gasolina and alcool (ethanol).
During the symposium, Gale A. Buchanan, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary for research, education, and economics, emphasized that “Brazil’s ethanol program is a model for the world.” His presence at the meeting is an important sign that the Bush Administration recognizes the need for the U.S. to learn and move forward. Buchanan was slated to meet with his Brazilian counterparts after the symposium, and he is scheduled to return to Brazil in two weeks for additional meetings. “The opportunity for the U.S. and Brazil to work together is very exciting,” Buchanan said.
Appropriating funding to advance biofuels development will be critical for the U.S., several members of the U.S. delegation pointed out. Buchanan acknowledged that need, with the caveat that it will be scientists who will need to drive progress by showing the value of their work to Congress and the President. He added that one hurdle will be bureaucracy in the federal government. In the case of biofuels, many government agencies have a stake—USDA, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and others. Interagency cooperation is not easy, he said.
Finally, one point that went unstated throughout much of our Brazilian adventure is that the entire reason biofuels are necessary is to establish lasting global sustainability. “Using biomass is not the solution; we have to use biomass carefully,” pointed out Luis P. Ramos of the Federal University of Paraná during the symposium. “We need to build models involving life-cycle analysis to build a sustainable world.” He is right. We have no reason to develop biofuels if we are only going to degrade the environment in the process. Brazil is showing that this is possible, and the U.S. can follow that lead. The U.S. cannot merely copy Brazil’s model, however. We must adapt it to fit U.S. needs, infrastructure, and environmental conditions.
There are a lot of people to thank for making this blog possible. First, there’s Brad Miller of ACS’s Office of International Activities (shown right), who invited Erika and me to take part. Our Brazilian host Paulo Vieira and tour coordinators graduate student Junia Pereira and postdoc Alessandra Ambrozim of the Federal University of São Carlos took care of all our needs in Brazil (the U.S. delegation with these three Brazilian hosts are shown below). On the U.S. side, the blog would not have happened without the staff of C&EN Online and especially C&EN Assistant Editor Kimberly Dunham, who worked through technical issues to edit and post all the entries.
Thanks for reading. Esperamos que tenham gostado! Valeu!