Sweet Fuel: The Remarkable Story of Brazilian Ethanol

About this Episode

Jennifer Eaglin

As the hazards of carbon emissions increase and governments around the world seek to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, the search for clean and affordable alternate energies has become an increasing priority in the twenty-first century. However, one nation has already been producing such a fuel for almost a century: Brazil. Its sugarcane-based ethanol is the most efficient biofuel on the global fuel market, and the South American nation is the largest biofuel exporter in the world.

In this talk, Jennifer Eaglin discusses her new book and offers a historical account of the industry's origins. The Brazilian government mandated a mixture of ethanol in the national fuel supply in the 1930s, and the success of the program led the military dictatorship to expand the industry and create the national program Proálcool in 1975. Private businessmen, politicians, and national and international automobile manufacturers together leveraged national interests to support this program. By 1985, over 95% of all new cars in the country ran exclusively on ethanol, and, after consumers turned away from them when oil was cheap, the government successfully promoted flex fuel cars instead. Yet, as she shows, the growth of this “green energy” came with associated environmental and social costs in the form of water pollution from liquid waste generated during ethanol distillation and exploitative rural labor practices that reshaped Brazil's countryside.


Jennifer Eaglin, Assistant Professor of History and Sustainability Institute
Nicholas Breyfogle (Moderator), Associate Professor of History, Director, Goldberg Center


The Center for Latin American Studies, https://clas.osu.edu/
The Sustainability Institute, https://si.osu.edu/

Cite this Site

Nicholas Breyfogle , "Sweet Fuel: The Remarkable Story of Brazilian Ethanol" , Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective
May, 2022
May, 2022

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