Toyota is taking notes from Brazil’s unique decarbonisation efforts

To achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, many countries and industries are working to curb emissions of greenhouse gases, chiefly carbon dioxide (CO2). But did you know there might be a better way? And it exists in the form of bioethanol.


In the automotive sector, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have claimed the spotlight as a key decarbonisation option. Toyota, however, is pursuing a multi-pathway approach that includes hydrogen and other diverse options beyond BEVs. It believes this is the true way forward.

In February, President Koji Sato (then Operating Officer) explained the concept at a press conference announcing the company’s new leadership team. He says, “Energy is what sustains our lives. Toyota must create cars with energy security in mind and contribute to achieving a carbon-neutral society.”

Even if BEVs and other vehicles emit no CO2 while driving, their contribution to decarbonisation differs greatly depending on whether a country’s electricity comes from renewable energy or fossil fuels. At the same time, their convenience for users varies widely between countries with ample charging infrastructure and those without.

Given these factors and Toyota’s globe-spanning business, the company has continued to emphasise that there is more than one way to reach carbon neutrality, with different approaches to suit individual countries.

And one of the prime examples they have highlighted is Brazil, a country that is charting its own path, unswayed by the strategies of other regions. 

bioethanol in Brazil.

Brazil, a country known for its samba, soccer, and stunning landscapes. But what you might not know is that Brazil also has something special on its fuel menu – ethanol. Alongside the usual suspects like gasoline and diesel, they serve up a healthy dose of ethanol at their fuel stations.

Now, why is this a big deal? Well, first off, Brazil isn’t just the world’s largest producer of sugar; it’s also the kingpin when it comes to bioethanol made from sugarcane. In 2022, they churned out a staggering 31.1 billion litres of the stuff. That’s a whole lot of ethanol!

But here’s where it gets interesting. Unlike some fuels that have a beef with the environment, ethanol is like the eco-friendly buddy of the fuel world. You see, sugarcane, the magic ingredient behind this biofuel, has a neat little trick up its sleeve.

As it grows, it sucks up carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis. So when you burn ethanol, it’s like you’re giving Mother Nature a high-five because it doesn’t pump more carbon into the atmosphere. That’s a win-win, right?

But wait, there’s more. Ethanol isn’t just kind to the environment; it’s also easy on your wallet. It’s about 20-30% cheaper than gasoline. So not only are you being a green warrior, but you’re also saving some green in your pocket. It’s no wonder it’s a popular choice at the pumps.

how can ethanol be used in a car?

Now, you might be thinking, “Hey, can I use this magical ethanol in my car?” Well, you’re in luck because 97% of cars produced in Brazil are what we call “flex-fuel vehicles.” These babies can run on 100% gasoline, 100% ethanol, or any mix of the two. Talk about flexibility!

But how did Brazil become the ethanol champion? It’s a tale that goes back to the 1973 oil crisis. Back then, Brazil was importing a ton of crude oil, and when oil prices shot through the roof, their foreign debt started to balloon. Not a good place to be, right?

So, the Brazilian government decided it was time to break free from their oil import addiction. They started supporting the development of cars that could run on sugarcane-derived ethanol. They also went full-throttle on ethanol production and distribution. And the rest, as they say, is history.

It wasn’t until 2003 that flex-fuel vehicles hit the scene, but boy, did they make an entrance! With three decades of ethanol under their belt, government incentives, and rising gas prices, Brazil was all set. Every gas station was equipped with ethanol pumps and tanks, and people couldn’t get enough of it.

Fast forward to 2022, and the impact is staggering. Flex-fuel vehicles have slashed gasoline use in the transport sector by a whopping 41.7% since they rolled onto the scene. That translates to a reduction of 630 million tons of CO2 emissions, which is like planting 4 billion trees.

this is where Toyota comes in.

And you know who else joined the bioethanol party? Toyota. They started producing ethanol-powered cars in Brazil back in 2007. But they didn’t stop there. In 2019, Toyota’s Brazilian engineers teamed up with their counterparts in Japan to create flex-fuel hybrids (HEVs).

These hybrids are like the superheroes of the car world, with efficiency levels cranked up by at least 30%. Plus, when combined with renewable fuel tech, they can slash CO2 emissions by a whopping 70%.

In April this year, Toyota dropped some big news. They’re going to manufacture a new compact flex-fuel HEV in 2024. This car is backed by a hefty 45-billion-yen investment and will be exported to 22 countries in Latin America. The aim? To make eco-friendly cars more accessible to everyone.

It’s not just about greener fuels and bioethanol; it’s about cleaner engines and a healthier planet. From sugarcane fields to car factories, Brazil is showing us that when it comes to being eco-friendly, they’re in it for the long haul.


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Sean Loo

Ignition Labs' resident editor loves all things retro, even though he was born in the late 90s. His main job encompasses tons of driving (and a massive carbon footprint), but he swears he turns off the lights each time he leaves his room.

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