Cane ethanol leader Brazil considers using corn

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Sugar cane ethanol pioneer Brazil, which touts the efficiency and environmental qualities of its biofuel, could soon begin making it from less-efficient corn to soak up excess grains in remote areas.

The combined industry and governmental steering committee for corn, which met on Wednesday, said it had commissioned a study by state researcher Embrapa to look at the viability of making ethanol in corn-growing state Mato Grosso.

“It’s very embryonic, only an idea. It would make use of corn, which is widely available in Mato Grosso, which is very distant from the south,” said Cesar Borges de Sousa, chairman of the joint committee known as the “corn sector chamber”.

Ethanol biofuel has supplanted gasoline as the main fuel in Brazil’s cars since the advent of flex-fuel engines, which can run solely on ethanol or gasoline or both mixed. But the fuel struggles to compete with gasoline on price in areas far from the cane-growing states in the southeast.

The chamber’s idea is to make cheaper ethanol locally to power cars and agricultural machinery and give producers an alternative outlet for their produce which, for export, must otherwise travel hundreds of miles (kilometers) to the ports.

The corn would be processed at the handful of cane ethanol mills in the state to occupy them through some of the months-long shutdown period when they are without cane to crush, de Sousa said.

“It would add value right there in the place where it is produced,” he said, adding the idea would be taken forward only if it proved financially and technically viable.

He said the amount of corn ethanol that could be produced would be tiny compared to the vast output of cane ethanol. Cane ethanol yields many times more energy than that used to grow it. Corn yields little, if any, extra energy.

Brazil plugs this as an environmental argument in favor of cane biofuel in its bid to expand exports to countries blending ethanol into their gasoline.

“Brazil won’t lose its pedestal by producing such an insignificant amount,” de Sousa said.

“Mato Grosso imports ethanol (from other Brazilian states). It would avoid this big journey ethanol has to do across the country,” he said, saving on diesel emissions from trucks that bring it.

A researcher at Embrapa, Jason de Oliveira Duarte, said occasional problems transporting or warehousing corn in Mato Grosso meant some corn spoiled. Producing ethanol from it could prevent waste, he said.

“It would have economic and environmental benefits because you would be using less fossil fuel and more renewable fuel,” Duarte said.

Editing by Dale Hudson