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Raízen, a joint venture between Shell and Brazilian firm Cosan, produces and sells over 2 billion litres a year of ethanol made from Brazilian sugar cane. Raízen allows Shell and Cosan to build a leading position in Brazil, the most efficient ethanol-producing country in the world.

It also distributes biofuels and over 20 billion litres of other industrial and transport fuels annually through a combined network of nearly 4,500 Shell-branded service stations. In Brazil it is the third largest fuels company. Plans would extend the company’s reach in future years to export more ethanol to other key markets.

Meeting demand

New energy policies in Europe and the USA are calling for more renewable, lower-carbon fuels for transport. Globally biofuels currently meet around 3% of road-transport fuel demand. The International Energy Agency expects this to rise to 8% by 2035.

Brazil leads the world in the use of biofuels for transport. They are likely to make up more than 30% of the country’s transport fuel mix by 2030, double today’s proportion. Raízen’s current annual production capacity will be enough to meet nearly 9% of Brazil’s current ethanol demand.

Almost 40% the country’s demand for petrol needs has been replaced by sugarcane ethanol – making it the leading fuel in Brazil.

At the pump Brazilian motorists are offered the choice of pure ethanol or a blend of petrol (gasoline) and ethanol. Around 90% of the country’s new cars can run on either fuel type.

The sugar-cane-to-ethanol process used by Raízen is the most efficient in turning biomass into fuel.

Brazilian sugar cane yields 7,000 litres of ethanol per hectare of cane compared to, for example, 3,800 litres for a hectare of corn in the USA and 2,500 litres for a hectare of wheat in Europe, according to Unica, the Brazilian sugar-cane industry association.

“Sugar cane is the most efficient plant we know in converting sunlight into energy,” says Professor Edgar de Beauclair, of the Crop Production Department São Paulo State University.

Better biofuels

Turning sugar cane into ethanol offers a number of environmental benefits over other biofuel production processes.

As it grows, sugar cane generally absorbs CO2 at a greater rate than other biofuel crops such as soy.

Ethanol made from Brazilian sugar cane produces around 70% less CO2 than petrol, when the cultivation and production processes are taken into account.

Since 2003 the use of ethanol in Brazil has avoided over 189 million tonnes of the CO2 that the petrol it has replaced would have produced, according to Unica.

Raízen is further reducing its overall CO2 emissions by using waste material to power its own plants and delivering surplus electricity to the national grid.

By-products from turning sugar cane into ethanol are recycled as organic fertiliser.

To further improve productivity, Raízen uses its own advanced geographical information system to monitor its land.

This allows its scientists to make accurate predictions about crop yields and adjust fertiliser or pest control, for example, to help boost production.


Today’s biofuels present some sustainability challenges: for example, labour rights and, if land is not carefully managed, concerns can arise over direct competition with food crops.

The Raízen joint venture agreement includes a set of sustainability principles designed to help overcome these challenges and improve sustainable production.

The principles require Raízen to carry out a robust assessment of the potential direct and indirect impacts of cultivating new land for biofuel crops – and to avoid land with a high conservation value.

Raízen works with its suppliers, contractors and landowners to make sure that they follow sound land, water management and labour practices.

Raízen is a member of Bonsucro, an organisation that drives the development of sustainable biofuels. Bonsucro is a robust standard that certifies sugar cane, globally, covering areas such as human rights and environmental criteria. Raízen was the first company to certify a sugar-cane mill using the Bonsucro sustainability standard in 2011.

Raízen continues to work towards the certification of its 24 sugar-cane mills to the Bonsucro standard. By the end of 2014, two further mills were certified, taking the total to 12.

Accelerating advanced biofuels

Raízen has the potential to help accelerate the commercial production of biofuels from crop waste and inedible plants. Over the coming years some plant waste from the sugar-cane ethanol process could potentially go into making advanced biofuels. In one process enzymes can break down the cellulose in plant fibres to produce ethanol.

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02 June 2011 - Shell and Cosan today launched a multi-billion dollar joint venture that will become a leading producer of the low-carbon biofuel, ethanol made from sugar cane. Named Raízen, this major retail and commercial fuels company will operate in Brazil, one of the world's fastest-growing markets.