Brazil and its ‘green’ bio-diesel

We all know that Brazil champions bio-fuels and as I wrote in a previous post, President Lula promotes worldwide the use (and thus Brazilian export) of ethanol from sugar-cane. You should think puffing out his chest Brazil is the prime example of clean air.

But as Míriam Leitão writes in her column “Economic Panorama” in O Globo, inhaling Brazilian air causes a frontal attack on your nose and your health.
People have to breathe to survive, but when you breathe in Brazil’s large cities, you are bound to inhale the sulphur rich fuel exhausts, mainly diesel. In the United States, Europe, Taiwan and Mexico, the sulphur content in diesel has already fallen. Seven years ago, a resolution determined clean fuel in Brazil. Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned petroleum giant said that it will commit to this resolution in 2009. Not meeting these requirements will cost more human lives.

The resolution 315 from 2002 published by Conama, the National Environment Institute, established that Brazilian diesel should have 50 parts of sulphur per million (i.e. a maximum of 0,005% of sulphur). Diesel is a composition basically consisted of carbon, hydrogen, and concentrations of sulphur, nitrogen and oxygen. There is a worldwide movement to reduce the share of sulphur as it is responsible for the existence of acid rain. Compared to the product in other countries, diesel in Brazil, a country that champions bio-diesel, is just a shame. For years ago the United States reached the level of 50 parts per million (ppm). At this moment the USA target for 15 parts per million. In Europe, the goal today is 10 ppm. In Brazil, diesel has 500 parts of sulphur per million in the large cities and 2.000 in the rural areas. Petrol (gasoline) has 1.000 ppm. But diesel raises more concern as it is a heavier compound with emitted particles more harmful to human health.

If the regulation of Conama, finally, comes into force in the coming year, the level of sulphur will fall to 50 ppm for diesel in both large cities and rural areas. Even when we get there, we are still far behind countries like Mexico, which today has 50 ppm and will go to 15 ppm next year. Taiwan reached 50 ppm 4 years ago. Canada, which has a heavy oil, had 340 ppm, but moved to 30 ppm. There are several large and medium-sized countries which are already reaching levels causing less pollution and less harm.

Why is this country with its abundance of ‘green’ bio-diesel one of the worst polluters in the world? Because it is typical Brazil, it contains all the signs of the various and many defects in Brazil: the excessive power of Petrobras (the Kingdom within a Republic), the inefficiency of the regulatory bodies, particularly the Agência Nacional do Petróleo (National Agency for Petroleum), the neglect of and the disinterest in the health of the citizens, and last but not least the lobby of the auto industry. Conama submitted to a long term period in which its resolution should be met, but the National Agency for Petroleum (ANP), which had to detail the technical specifications of fuels, let the time running out. Finally in October last year and after much pressure from entities such as the movement “Our São Paulo”, the OAB, the Department of Environment of São Paulo, among others, the ANP reported the specifications.
And then a lobby started to delay the enforcement of the resolution, whose implementation was scheduled for January 2009. The authorities reacted. The Ministry of Environment announced not to be inclined to accept postponements. Minister Carlos Minc of the Ministry of Environment reiterated this, saying that he shall require compensation from Petrobras and Anfavea (the Association of Brazilian Car Manufacturers) if they do not meet the deadline. Petrobras divulged in a bulletin that “the Company shall provide the 50 ppm diesel to be used by vehicles with technology P-6. This product is also available for tests by the auto industry.”

Heavy sulphur loaded diesel is the main culprit for the pollution generated by traffic. The pollution causes various respiratory diseases and even lung cancer, 5% of the cases are caused by pollution. Two million people die each year worldwide from diseases caused by air pollution.

Professor Paulo Saldiva of the Laboratory for Atmospheric Pollution of the University of São Paulo, made a calculation regarding the effects on the economically active population, between 20 and 60 years in the metropolitan region of São Paulo; he arrived at a cost of 1,5 billion USD per year because of problems caused by pollution. While only 10% of the fleet is diesel, the fuel is responsible for 50% of the emissions of fine particles, which forms the black smoke, responsible for deaths and respiratory diseases. According to Paulo Saldiva, pollution causes some 400 deaths per year in the city of São Paulo only.

Petrobras, in its memo, said it is gradually removing the sulphur content of diesel and gasoline since the early 90’s and states that it invested 1,6 billion USD from 2000 to 2007 to improve the quality of fuels.
There is no reason for further postponements, the technology to reduce sulphur content is readily available and public health should be at the top of the list of priorities of the socialistic administration of President Lula.

But there is hope, although we have to wait a long time. Yesterday the Ministry of Environment proposed a plan to reduce the share of sulphur to 10 ppm in 2012. Nice, but various sources are reporting that the proposed resolution will not be imposed before 2017. Nine years from now, just to go from 50 ppm to 10 ppm, a level many a country has reached already nowadays. Nine years more to see Brazil change from a lavish green to a dry savannah.