WASHINGTON, DC, US — As the top per capita consumer of ethanol in the world, Brazil represents a significant opportunity for domestic and US corn producers that drew a US Grains Council (USGC) team visit in mid-August to assess the corn ethanol market in the South American nation.

During its mission, the USGC team explored domestic and global market potential for Brazilian corn ethanol and logistics challenges faced by US ethanol exporters to Brazil at the main ports in the northeastern region of the country, USGC noted in its Aug. 25 Global Update newsletter. Sugar cane is the main source of feedstock for ethanol production in Brazil, followed by corn.

The team consisted of Mackenzie Boubin, USGC director of global ethanol export development; Juan Sebastian Diaz, USGC Latin America ethanol consultant; Kelly Nieuwenhuis, ethanol advisory team member, Iowa Corn Promotion Board; and Duane Kristensen, Chief Ethanol Fuels Inc. 

The group met with industry associations, ethanol producers, port operators and union leaders in Brazil, including the National Union of Corn Ethanol (UNEM), the Brazilian Association of Soy Producers (APROSOJA), Mato Grosso Institute of Agricultural Economics (IMEA), FS Bioenergy, Suape Port, Pernambuco Maritime Terminals (TEMAPE), Atlantimport and Sindacucar/PE.

“By meeting port authorities and ethanol traders, the group was able to learn the complexity of trading ethanol in the north and northeast area in Brazil and to assess the potential obstacles that the industry needs to overcome to regain market share in the country,” Diaz said. 

Brazil historically has been a top-three ethanol export market for the US industry — at one point, reaching up to 480 million gallons of exports during the 2016-17 marketing year. So far in the 2021-22 marketing year, Brazil has imported nearly 99 million gallons of US ethanol, making the country the fifth largest market for the US commodity, the USGC said. 

“Brazil enjoys an average ethanol blend of 27.5% within their national fuel supply, making it the top per capita consumer of ethanol in the world,” Boubin said. “The Council seeks to learn how both the US and other countries could implement similar high blend levels within our respective fuel infrastructures, and this mission provided value on the various pathways to achieve such success.”

The USGC also has been active in Brazil advocating to reduce the duties applied to US ethanol and to help certify ethanol plants under the low-carbon RenovaBio program, which continues to be unreachable for US exporters since the Brazilian government has not defined the rules for other feedstocks to get certified under the program.