ELLA Guide: The Story of Brazil’s Ethanol Programme

ELLA is the Evidence and Lessons from Latin America programme


Launched in 1975, Brazil’s ethanol programme, Próalcool, has propelled the country towards being the world’s number one producer, user and exporter of sugarcane ethanol. Próalcool not only reduced national dependence on imported energy, it also bolstered the economy, created jobs and diversified the country’s renewable energy portfolio. Many countries in Africa and Asia are dependent on imported energy and could consider cultivating fuel crops by learning from the Brazilian experience. The development of ethanol in Brazil was not flawless, however, and as such, other nations wishing to develop a biofuels market can avoid making the same mistakes by understanding the specific challenges and impacts of ethanol production in Brazil. This Guide begins by describing the main phases of ethanol production in Brazil, including an analysis of key government initiatives and some of the most important benefits to date. The following section then presents the social, economic and environmental impacts of biofuel production in Brazil, before discussing the prospects of second generation ethanol, a more environmentally-friendly biofuel. Finally, the Guide describes the main enabling factors behind ethanol production in Brazil and summarises key policy and practice lessons. Links to further reading and key organisations are also provided to guide readers to additional information.

Key Lessons:

The biggest biofuels programme in the world, Brazil’s Próalcool, has had important successes including reducing dependence on oil imports, decreasing GHG emissions and creating jobs.

Government policies and incentives have been fundamental to stimulating and maintaining competitive ethanol production.

Negative environmental and social impacts of ethanol production must be tackled with innovative planning tools and strong enforcement measures.

Second generation ethanol offers the potential for significantly increasing productivity without the need for expanding cultivation, and may therefore be considered a more sustainable fuel option.


Ninô de Carvalho, P. ELLA Guide: The Story of Brazil’s Ethanol Programme. ELLA, Practical Action Consulting, Lima, Peru (2013) 11 pp.

Published 1 January 2013