Biofuels & Electrification: The Shifting Landscape of Brazilian Sociotechnical Mobility System

Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Bordeaux (2024)


1. Introduction

Transportation and urban mobility on a global scale are exploring alternatives and technological solutions to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions. These measures impact both local public health and climate change, as well as other undesirable effects resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels (International Energy Agency (IEA) 2023). Particularly in the European context, this trend has been supported and propelled by a set of specific public policies and regulations. These measures have applied pressure on the supply side by demanding more fuel- efficient and less polluting vehicles, and on the demand side by providing incentives for the acquisition of low-emission vehicles or imposing penalties and restrictions on those that are pollutant (Pardi 2022). In Latin America and Brazil, this movement is no different, despite the implementation of different technological architectures. In the Brazilian case, a somewhat alternative trajectory is observed. On the one hand, there is consideration for the accumulated knowledge, skills, and industry related to biofuels engines. On the other hand, there is also the introduction and implementation of electrified and hybrid architectures in the country (Barassa, Cruz, and Wolffenbüttel 2023).

2. Research Question

Given this context, a question arises: How is the mobility sector in Brazil (both industry and market) being impacted in terms of company strategies for new products/solutions, considering the diverse technological pathways (extensive knowledge and expertise in biofuels, as well as the implementation and development of electrification and hybridization)?

3. Objective

This article aims to investigate, describe, and analyze the (re)configuration of the Brazilian transportation sector, which has been traditionally oriented towards biofuel-based combustion engines, in response to emerging technologies based on worldwide powertrain electrification. The study encompasses an examination of changes in the production value chain, the introduction of new products, market dynamics, and public policies/ regulations in shaping and sustaining the transition towards low emission vehicles.

4. Methods

In terms of methodological procedures, we applied socio-technical transition theory and the multi-level perspective (MLP) (Geels 2002; Geels and Schot 2007; Nykvist and Whitmarsh 2008) approach to depict the interplay of three MLP layers (niche, regime, and landscape) and to project future paths for the transition from traditional (biofuels engines) vehicles to electric and hybrid vehicles in Brazil. By adopting the MLP lens, we aim to unravel the intricate interactions between niche innovations and the established regime in the Brazilian transportation sector, providing insights into the transformative potential of electrification and its implications for the broader socio-technical landscape. A data source for this article stems from a systematic review of the literature on Brazilian mobility, encompassing a diverse range of materials such as academic papers, thesis, sectoral reports, and other strategic studies. This comprehensive review aims to capture the prevailing direction of investments and the behavioral patterns of key actors within the Brazilian mobility landscape.

5. Main findings

Regarding passenger cars, the emergence of conventional hybrids and their notable presence in the market signifies the establishment of a niche for flex-fuel hybrid models (PNME 2021). This niche has successfully leveraged the existing ethanol refueling infrastructure and fiscal incentives, aligning with the MLP's micro-level, where innovations typically emerge in specific niches. The flex-fuel hybrids, lead and locally produced by Toyota, can be seen as a niche that has capitalized on the accumulated knowledge and industry expertise related to biofuels in Brazil, representing a path that aligns with the established regime. MLP framework suggests that transitions occur when innovations in the niche challenge and interact with the dominant regime. In this context, the flex-fuel hybrids can be viewed as a transition technology, combining elements of the existing biofuel-oriented regime with emerging electrification technologies.

However, the growing influence of plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles introduces another layer to the dynamics. The increasing popularity of plug-in cars,

particularly driven by aggressive strategies from Chinese brands (BYD and GWM, mainly), represents a challenge to the established regime of biofuel-oriented vehicles (Forbes 2023). The coexistence and competition between flex-fuel hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery electric vehicles reflect the ongoing struggle between niches and regimes, highlighting the interplay of the micro and meso levels.

In the context of urban buses, there is a notable expansion with new participants and products towards electrification. Mercedes-Benz introduced the locally developed electric bus chassis, and both Volkswagen and Volvo are planning to broaden their presence in this sector. Key players such as Eletra, BYD, and Marcopolo are actively enhancing their competencies to stay competitive. Eletra has opened a new production facility in São Bernardo do Campo, while BYD operates an assembly line for e-chassis and a battery factory in Brazil. Notably, Marcopolo, renowned for bus body producer, has developed its own electric bus chassis with domestic suppliers (Barassa 2023). Furthermore, there is a exploration of a biomethane-fueled bus as a technological pathway complementary possibility. The biomethane-fueled bus, produced by Scania in Brazil, taps into the niche of alternative fuels, utilizing biomethane derived from sugarcane by-products.

In the realm of heavy duty vehicles, the reliance on biofuels, such as biodiesel and synthetic solutions like HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil), underscores the significance of the existing highway transportation regime (IBP - Instituto Brasileiro de Petróleo e Gás 2023). Biodiesel's compatibility with traditional diesel engines and infrastructure, as well as the adaptability of HVO as a drop-in replacement, represents a pragmatic response to the challenges faced by heavy-duty vehicles in adopting battery-powered electric technologies. Moreover, biomethane, derived from organic waste and renewable sources, plays a complementary role in the decarbonization of heavy-duty transportation, particularly in the context of Brazilian trucks (ESTRADÃO 2023). This aligns with the resilience of regimes in the face of niche innovations, particularly in sectors with specific challenges.

6. Conclusions and policy implications

In summary, the results suggest a complex interplay between innovation niches and the established regime in the Brazilian automotive industry, echoing the dynamics outlined in MLP framework. The emergence of various technological pathways reflects the ongoing transition in response to sustainability goals, governmental policies, and global market trends, offering a nuanced understanding of the multifaceted changes within the transportation sector in Brazil.

The Brazilian strength lies in its ability to harness a diverse mix of complementary technologies, a concept aligning with the MLP's recognition of innovation niches. The coexistence and integration of various technological pathways within the

transportation sector, ranging from flex-fuel hybrids to biomethane-fueled buses, represent emerging niches responding to specific market demands and environmental considerations.

MLP emphasizes the importance of considering multiple technological trajectories, acknowledging the suitability of each within specific vehicle segments. This aligns with the understanding that niches, such as the successful deployment of flex-fuel hybrid models, can play a crucial role in challenging and influencing the established regime, ultimately contributing to systemic transitions.

Furthermore, the call for comprehensive strategies and public policies aligns with the MLP's recognition of the macro-level landscape, emphasizing the role of governance structures in shaping transitions. The suggestion to avoid a singular technological pathway resonates with MLP's acknowledgment that transitions are complex and multifaceted, requiring a mix of technologies to address diverse challenges.

The implications for public policies, such as the formulation of national frameworks for sustainable mobility, directly correlate with the MLP's emphasis on the macro- level landscape. These frameworks serve as guiding structures, providing a vision for the future and clear goals for the transportation sector. In doing so, they offer stability for investments, stimulate innovation, and contribute to a systemic change in the mobility landscape.

7. References

Barassa, Edgar. 2023. Geografia Produtiva Da Indústria de Veículos de Transporte Público No Brasil e Impacto Da COVID-19 Sobre as Cadeias de Fornecimento. 1st ed. Santiago de Chile: CEPAL. br/publicaciones/68736-geografia-produtiva-industria-veiculos-transporte- publico-brasil-impacto-covid.

Barassa, Edgar, Robson Ferreira da Cruz, and Rodrigo Foresta Wolffenbüttel. 2023. 3 ANUÁRIO BRASILEIRO DA MOBILIDADE ELÉTRICA 2023: 3rd ed. Vol. 4. Brasilia: PNME.

ESTRADÃO. 2023. “Biometano é Opção Para Reduzir as Emissões de Caminhões.” Notícias. 2023. opcao-para-reduzir-as-emissoes-de-caminhoes/.

Forbes. 2023. “Nova Fábrica Da BYD Acirra Concorrência Entre Marcas Chinesas.” 2023.

Geels, Frank W. F.W. 2002. “Technological Transitions as Evolutionary Reconfiguration Processes: A Multi-Level Perspective and a Case-Study.” Research Policy 31 (8–9): 1257–74. 7333(02)00062-8.

Geels, Frank W. F.W., and Johan Schot. 2007. “Typology of Sociotechnical Transition Pathways.” Research Policy 36 (3): 399–417.

IBP - Instituto Brasileiro de Petróleo e Gás. 2023. CAMINHOS PARA A DESCARBONIZAÇÃO. Rio de Janeiro: IBP. chrome- extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/ onalizado/uploads/2024/01/caminhos-para-a-descarbonizacao-ibp-cop- 28.pdf.

International Energy Agency (IEA). 2023. “Global EV Outlook 2023.” Paris.

Nykvist, Björn, and Lorraine Whitmarsh. 2008. “A Multi-Level Analysis of Sustainable Mobility Transitions: Niche Development in the UK and Sweden.” Technological Forecasting and Social Change 75 (9): 1373–87.

Pardi, Tommaso. 2022. Heavier, Faster and Less Affordable Cars. European Trade Union Institute. affordable-cars.

PNME. 2021. “1o Anuário Brasileiro Da Mobilidade Elétrica.” eletrica/.

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