According to the report Latin American Economic Outlook (LEO) 2022: “towards a green and just transition” -presented on November 7 at the COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt- Latin America and the Caribbean constitute one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change. However, the region is well positioned to face a transition to renewable energy, because its potential resources are very high and it has already made significant progress in biofuels.
Renewables currently account for 33% of the energy used in the region, in contrast to only 13% globally. But the transition to zero emissions depends on decarbonization. That is, significantly reduce the use of fossil fuels, gas and oil, which are those that emit the most carbon dioxide (CO2), which are greenhouse gases.
Investments in green hydrogen and low-carbon alternative fuels, such as sustainable biofuels, are critical to further lowering global warming gas emissions.
Latin America has comparative advantages in this matter that positions it as one of the leaders in these energies. To understand the perspectives of the sector, Karen Fabián, correspondent for the Russian agency Sputnik in Mexico City, spoke with Omar Masera Cerutti, director of the Ecotechnological and Bioenergy Innovation Group, coordinator of the Solid Biofuels Cluster and 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Bioenergies, according to Masera Cerutti, come from solid biofuels, such as wood, firewood and pellets, gaseous ones, where biogas predominates, and liquid biofuels, including bioethanol, biodiesel; and jet fuel, based on gases of vegetable origin, or a mixture, which is used for airplanes.
In Latin America, the most widely used are solid biofuels, especially firewood in rural areas, to cook food, to heat water or for heating. However, it is also used in small industries from pellets. It is a biofuel generated by means of wood particles that is used especially for applications that have to do with the generation of heat.
Solid biofuels represent between 10 and 30% of energy consumption in the region, according to Cerutti. “In Mexico, for example, biomass is 10% of total energy use and can reach 20/25%”.
The biogas sector, a clean fuel that is used to generate heat and also electricity and that is produced in landfills, through the decomposition of methane from organic waste. It constitutes a “very important application of clean energy from biomass,” says Cerutti.
Liquid biofuels have Brazil as the second world leader, according to figures of the World Bank, after the United States. In other words, 45% of the energy produced in the country comes from renewable sources. Particularly, since 1975, with the creation of the National Ethanol Program, Brazil produces energy based on sugar cane, which “uses 27% in fuel in gasoline cars”, the expert specifies. It is expected that by 2029, the figure will rise to 52% to reduce greenhouse gases.
In addition to ethanol fuel, biodiesel is produced in Latin America, a green fuel that is obtained from oil from oilseeds. The most common are soybeans, sunflowers, corn, peanuts and flax.
In June 2022, the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA) reported that the Brazilian company Bsbios, born in 2005 and currently the largest biodiesel producer in that country, plans to build the Omega Green biorefinery in Paraguay. , which will be operational from 2025.
In 2021, Bsbios sold 895,463 cubic meters of biodiesel, an increase of 18.5% compared to 2020 and achieved a market share in Brazil of 13.2%, according to the company’s 2021 Sustainability Report.
In second place is Argentina, according to Cerutti. That is because it is one of the countries with the largest area of soybean crops. Currently, more than 30 biodiesel plants operate in different provinces, with the epicenter in Santa Fe, which concentrates 82% of the installed capacity.
In this regard, Santiago Paz Brühl, a consultant with more than 30 years in the sector, estimates that by 2030, the national production of biodiesel in Argentina could go from 5 to 9 million cubic meters, which would represent 45% of the demand. . Its export capacity grew and it currently sells 1.2 million tons of biodiesel abroad to the European Union.
However, Cerutti explains that biodiesel is still little used in the countries of the region, and it is not a large-scale alternative due to transportation and criticism of the agricultural model that means deforestation and the enormous amount of chemical inputs as well. such as the use of transgenics, especially in soybeans, says Cerutti.
As for jet fuel, for aircraft, Cerutti says that it is “an interesting fuel, already thinking about the energy transition, because it is practically the only alternative to oil in terms of transport, outside of electric vehicles.” The reason is that the “demand for jet fuel is much less than the demand for diesel for cars and trucks, so here, bioenergy can play an interesting role in the region.”
Behind Brazil and Argentina, Colombiawhich can be incorporated through oil palm, since it is the leading producer of this type of oil in the region and the fourth in the world.
Cerutti, who is part of the panel for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, affirms that “Latin America has a very high possibility in the biomass industry because it has very large areas and a still small population density, compared to other regions of the world. In addition, in many places, agriculture is a very important sector, so all Latin American countries have great potential.”.
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Latin America gains ground in the green transition and in the world of biofuels