A story in The New York Times last week reports the increasing popularity in Brazil of flex fuel vehicles that can use gasoline or ethanol interchangeably. Drivers with these snazzy cars can choose a fuel for the day’s driving based on availability, price, or sheer whim. These flex fuel vehicles might have a market well beyond Brazil now that oil has hit $54 a barrel. While using ethanol as a transportation fuel won’t solve all air quality problems, it can be part of the solution in many countries.The increased demand for ethanol created by the introduction of flex fuel cars in other
countries might also spur greater investment in bagasse cogeneration, or the production of power
from sugar cane waste (bagasse). Many countries, notably Brazil and India, have successfully
convinced sugar estates to utilize bagasse in the production of surplus power that is then fed
back into the grid. Worldwide, the potential of bagasse cogeneration to meet energy needs is
Ethanol and power from bagasse are two points of a triangle that, in addition to the obvious (the
sweet stuff itself) contribute to the valorization of sugar. Sugar prices, like that of any
commodity, fluctuate greatly. Having markets for sugar-derived but non-sugar products such as
ethanol and power from bagasse can help developing country farmers stay profitable.
From an environmental perspective, increased demand for and use of ethanol created by flex fuel
vehicles could improve air quality while making the generation of power from bagasse, another
non-sugar product, more attractive. It’s yet another reason, if you needed it, to love sugar.