Brazil’s Top Fuel Firm Is Betting on Growth in Corn Ethanol

Source: By Gerson Freitas Jr and Ezra Fieser, Bloomberg • Posted: Sunday, November 26, 2023

Vibra Energia aims to tap north Brazil’s corn ethanol growth CEO identifies strategy as part of push into renewable energy

Brazil’s largest fuel distributor wants to bring corn ethanol to places where gasoline is still king.

Vibra Energia SA expects to benefit from a corn ethanol production boom in Latin America’s largest economy to expand sales of the biofuel in northern states, which are still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, according to Chief Executive Officer Ernesto Pousada Jr.

Brazilian ethanol has been primarily made from sugar cane for decades, and it’s mostly used near production areas in Brazil’s heavily populated southeast region. But production of corn — commonly used in the US to make ethanol — has rapidly expanded northward, triggering a wave of investments in new biofuel-producing facilities that use abundant supplies of the grain as feedstock.

“Ethanol, in our view, will grow toward north and northeast,” Pousada said last week in an interview in New York, adding that using corn as feedstock will make the biofuel competitive in areas where cane ethanol is too expensive to compete with gasoline. “Vibra will allow that to happen through its infrastructure logistics.”

Vibra, which runs more than 8,400 gas stations, has pivoted to renewables as part of efforts to capitalize on the energy transition. Ethanol, commonly used to power cars in Latin America’s biggest economy, plays a central role in the firm’s strategy, which also includes a push into biogas, solar power and electric vehicle charging.

Vibra, a former unit of state-owned oil giant Petrobras SA, formed a joint venturewith Brazilian giant producer group Copersucar SA last year. It has become one of the nation’s largest traders of ethanol.

“Ethanol will be a long-term transition fuel and continue to grow” in Brazil, Pousada said.

Vibra, which fuels six out of 10 commercial flights in Brazil, is also willing to invest in green jet fuel, the CEO said. The company signed an agreement last year with Brasil Biofuels to sell so-called sustainable aviation fuel — or SAF — that the palm oil producer intends to supply starting in 2025. Pousada said he sees room for further partnerships or even investments in production, though the firm isn’t actively looking for opportunities.

Besides replacing fossil fuel use, SAF could also become an export commodity in Brazil, he said.

“It’s not only a protection for our business, but a growth opportunity,” Pousada said.

— With assistance from Dayanne Sousa