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Mechanized harvesting of sugarcane in Piracicaba, São Paulo

The history of ethanol fuel in Brazil dates from the 1970s and relates to Brazil’s sugarcane based ethanol fuel program, which allowed the country to became the world's second largest producer of ethanol, and the world's largest exporter. Several important political and technological developments led Brazil to became the world leader in the sustainable use of bioethanol, a policy model for other countries, and allowed the country to achieve a landmark in ethanol consumption, when ethanol retail sales surpassed 50% market share of the gasoline-powered vehicle fleet in early 2008.

Ethyl alcohol or ethanol is obtained as a by-product of sugar mills producing sugar, and can be processed to produce alcoholic beverages, ethanol fuel or alcohol for industrial or antiseptic uses. The first use of sugarcane ethanol as fuel in Brazil dates back to the late twenties and early thirties of the twentieth century, with the introduction of the automobile in the country. After World War I some experimenting took place in Brazil's Northeast Region, and as early as 1919, the Governor of Pernambuco mandated all official vehicles to run on ethanol. The first ethanol fuel production plant went on line in 1927, the Usina Serra Grande Alagoas (USGA), located in the Northeastern state of Alagoas, producing fuel with 75% ethanol and 25% ethyl ether. As other plants began producing ethanol fuel, two years later there were 500 cars running on this fuel in the country's Northeast Region.

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