Skip to main content

Can 'sugar seats' bring sweet taste of success to Brazil?

By Gary Morley, CNN
February 9, 2012 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Brazilian chemical firm Braskem leads the way in the production of green plastics alternatives derived from sugarcane. Brazilian chemical firm Braskem leads the way in the production of green plastics alternatives derived from sugarcane.
  • Brazilian company hopes that its "sugar seats" will feature at the 2014 World Cup
  • Braskem already has a deal with Amsterdam ArenA to install its green plastic chairs
  • Dutch group is also involved with development of two soccer stadiums in Brazil for 2014
  • Braskem has agreed green deals in European market with several big corporations

(CNN) -- Football fans could find themselves sitting in seats made from sugar when Brazil hosts the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 64 years.

Brazil has long led the way when it comes to soccer skills, and the country has also shown considerable innovation in developing new technologies. The two worlds may meet in 2014 as one of South America's biggest chemical companies hopes to show the way forward with its eco stadium solutions.

"What we are doing here is showing the world that we have an alternative. You can produce plastics from a renewable source," says Fabio Carneiro, Braskem's commercial director for renewable business.

Sugarcane is an abundant crop in Brazil, and the firm hopes that it will provide a competitive edge over its renewable energy rivals.

As well as biofuel, it is used to make green plastic -- derived from plant sources rather than carbon fossil fuels such as oil.

Brazilian boom benefits football
FIFA in Brazil beer feud
Brazil's World Cup preparations slowed
Brazil gets ready for 2014

A landmark deal has already been struck with Amsterdam ArenA, the home of Ajax football club, to first install 2,000 such "sugar seats" and eventually replace all 54,000 of the existing ones in the Dutch stadium.

"This technology is not really new, it's a technology from the 1970s," explains Braskem's corporate marketing director Frank Alcantara.

"We had, at that time, a lack of ethylene. We developed this kind of technology to develop ethylene from ethanol. This new technology that we are using now was developed about six years ago. We started producing on a commercial basis since last year in September."

The plant in Triunfo in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul is the first in the world to produce ethylene from ethanol and then create green polyethylene, Alcantara says.

At this stage it makes up a small proportion of the company's total output, but -- with 12 stadiums still being built or refurbished -- the World Cup could provide the perfect stage to spur significant expansion.

"We are talking to the people that build the arenas. We want to have the solution in Brazil that we can have sugar seats made from 100% Brazilian sugarcane. It would be very, very nice for everybody," Alcantara says.

The Amsterdam ArenA group has a partnership with Braskem's parent company Odebrecht and the multinational Petrobras to develop the renovated Fonte Nova stadium in Bahia state for the World Cup.

ArenA chief executive Henk Markerink believes the sugar seats could feature at the tournament as Brazil's national team seeks a record-extending sixth title and first since 2002.

"There's a high probability to do so. The ethanol is a real Brazilian product, and the resources are available in Brazil," he says.

"This will be a very interesting product for World Cup stadiums. Because it's a Brazilian product I'm sure it'll be supported on the Brazilian side. We hope this product will be pushed as much as possible."

We have a very risk-taking culture at our company, so we just announced it and we did it
Braskem's Frank Alcantara

The Dutch group is also working on the new Arena das Dunas venue in the northern city of Natal, which will have an extra year to be completed as it will not be used for the 2013 Confederations Cup event which will also be held in Brazil.

While Amsterdam ArenA has the goal of being the world's first carbon-neutral venue by 2015, the Brazilian stadiums did not have the same sustainability aims inbuilt when football's ruling body FIFA awarded the tournament in 2007.

"But we are trying to get as many elements into those stadiums. One of the things is using rain water in a careful way and also using solar energy as much as possible," Markerink says.

"The designs for the World Cup stadiums were from 5-6 years ago and we were not involved then. We are trying to retro-fit these things."

He says the Amsterdam ArenA has made big steps to achieving its goals -- changing to recyclable or reusable materials, negotiating deals to use "waste" energy from local suppliers and becoming independent in part through solar energy. Talks have begun to purchase two big windmills.

"In a day to day situation we can already provide our own electricity; on match days when we peak in our usage, we have to get energy from the net," Markerink says.

"In the day we deliver energy to the net."

The ArenA's model is centered on profitable fulltime operation, meaning the venue is used for concerts and other entertainment events as well as sport.

The most important thing with our product is you can put it straight in the processing machines
Braskem's Fabio Carneiro

A similar approach is being introduced in Bahia, where the group is showing organizers not just how to build the stadium but also how to run it and sustain it in the long term -- including a deal with the local university to make sure suitable workers will be trained and available.

"One of the concerns always, especially from the government, is that there won't be any white elephants left after the World Cup, that stadiums won't be used anymore," Markerink says.

"We are focused very much on a user program so that the stadium in every sense has a place in society. This stadium is in a very interesting city with a lot of music and dance and entertainment and shows."

He says Amsterdam's main challenge now is to reduce patrons' reliance on cars to get to the arena. This means promoting public transport, and therefore cutting carbon dioxide levels.

One such tactic is combined tickets incorporating travel, match entry and dining options.

But for Braskem, the big obstacle is convincing stadium contractors -- the 12 venues are all being built in private-public partnerships with the government -- that green technology is better than traditional means.

"The most important thing with our product is you can put it straight in the processing machines and you don't need any kind of investment. They don't have to adapt their machinery," Carneiro says.

Ever-increasing clearance of Amazon rainforest is a big environmental issue in Brazil, but Alcantara says this is not a problem with sugarcane, which can't grow properly in such wet climates.

"We still have a lot of land that we can use much better in the way of producing goods," he says.

We are focused very much on a user program so that the stadium in every sense has a place in society
Amsterdam Arena CEO Henk Markerink

This has been a landmark year for Braskem's green arm, with deals agreed with big corporations such as Proctor and Gamble, Danone, Nestle, Tetra Pak and high-end fashion house Chanel.

From 2013 Braskem will also be able to produce green polypropylene, which will increase its range of plastics alternatives. In football terms, that could mean deals to provide goal nets

"Once the customer decides and says, 'I'm just going to buy renewable material,' we will have the material and we will be able to produce it more," Carneiro says.

"We still have to develop a lot of technology. We are doing it, we are investing a lot to develop this kind of material. It is much more important that the customer decides they want to go towards this material."

Alcantara says the company will continue to push the cause of fossil fuel alternatives.

"We announced we were going to make polyethanol in 2007 and we did it. We have a very risk-taking culture at our company, so we just announced it and we did it. Now we are ready to do much more. We can fulfil that -- it is a market need, a real one."

Part of complete coverage on
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
After 20 years, more than 300 goals and a host of major honors, Thierry Henry has called time on his glittering football career.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1014 GMT (1814 HKT)
They do things differently at Sociedad Deportiva Eibar, up in the mist-cloaked valleys of the Basque country. And it is working.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1353 GMT (2153 HKT)
He might be struggling to score goals for Liverpool, but Mario Balotelli's cheeky tweet about the British monarch hit the spot during the World Cup.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1253 GMT (2053 HKT)
How Real Madrid's new stadium will look
They splash the cash on the world's best players, now Real Madrid are giving the Bernabeu the same treatment with a bling makeover.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
Football world mourns South African captain Senzo Meyiwa who was shot and killed during a botched robbery in a township near Johannesburg.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1348 GMT (2148 HKT)
A man as a Roman centurion and who earn his living by posing with tourists gestures in front of the Colosseum during a protest where some of his colleagues climbed on the monument on April 12, 2012 in Rome. The costumed centurions are asking for the right to work there after they were banned following a decision by local authorities.
From the ancient ruins of Rome, a new empire rises. But the eyes of the city's newest gladiator light up at thoughts of the Colosseum.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1622 GMT (0022 HKT)
Once part of Germany's largest Jewish sports club, now he's the first ISIS suspect to stand trial in a country left shocked by his alleged radicalization.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1411 GMT (2211 HKT)
One goal in eight matches for new club Liverpool, and dumped by the Italian national team -- Mario Balotelli has yet to shine on his English return.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1819 GMT (0219 HKT)
Ched Evans smiles during the Wales training session ahead of their UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier against England on March 25, 2011 in Cardiff, Wales.
Should a convicted rapist, who has served their time in prison, be allowed to resume their old job? What if that job was as a high-profile football player?
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 1247 GMT (2047 HKT)
After 10 years of golden glory, it's easy to see how Lionel Messi has taken his place among the football gods.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 1034 GMT (1834 HKT)
A football fan wipes a tear after Inter Milan's Argentinian defender Javier Zanetti has greeted fans following the announcement of his retirement before the start of the Italian seria A football match Inter Milan vs Lazio, on May 10, 2014, in San Siro Stadium In Milan
When will the tears stop? A leading Italian football club is pursuing a new direction -- under the guidance of its new Indonesian owner.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Norwegian 15-year-old Martin Odegaard is the youngest player ever to feature in a European Championships qualifying match.
October 10, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
After revolutionizing cricket with its glitzy Twenty20 league, India has now thrown large sums of money at a new football venture.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Get ruthless. That is Rio Ferdinand's message to soccer's authorities in the fight to tackle the scourge of racism.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
A picture taken on May 16, 2014 shows 15-year-old Norwegian footballer Martin Oedegaard of club Stroemsgodset IF cheering during a match in Drammen, Norway. Oedegaard is set to become Norways youngest player ever in the national football team.
He's just 15 and the world is seemingly already at his feet. Norway's Martin Odegaard is being sought by Europe's top clubs.