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Sustainability of sugarcane bioenergy

CGEE | 2012

This book deals with the sustainability characteristics of sugarcane bioenergy in Brazil. Due to the strong relation of sugarcane agroindustry to the Country's economic, social and environment sustainable development (around 18% of total primary energy supply), it was organized having in mind the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), Rio+20. Most of the chapters present some of the results of studies carried out in partnership between the Center for Strategic Studies and Management (CGEE) and the Brazilian Bioethanol Science and Technology National Laboratory (CTBE). These studies followed CGEE and the Interdisciplinary Energy Planning Nucleus of the University of Campinas (Nipe/Unicamp) initiatives that gave origin to CTBE.

The production of bioethanol from sugarcane in Brazil, associated with the production of bioelectricity, sugar and biomaterials, presents attractive returns and constitutes the best alternative to use labor, land, water and sunlight in the production of biofuels. Nowadays, sugarcane bioethanol is already economically competitive; it does not adversely affect food production, has a great productivity of biomass (over one hundred tones per hectare), presents an excellent ratio between the renewable energy produced and the fossil energy consumed in the production (up to ten times), considerably mitigates climate change (more than 80% GHG emission reduction), and causes minimal environmental impact by fully utilizing the raw material. This energy source still offers a substantial potential for improvement, optimizing the agroindustrial processes and developing its high-valued byproducts trough biorefinery approach, green chemistry etc. In the forthcoming years, production could exceed ten thousand liters of bioethanol and fourteen thousand kilowatt-hours of bioelectricity per hectare, with low exogenous energy requirements and emissions of greenhouse gases one-tenth of the amount generated using oil products with the same energy output. Next generation biochemical (cellulosic hydrolysis) or thermochemical (gasification and gas-to-liquid, pyrolysis) technologies for liquid biofuels production are certainly worth developing, but they are in no way indispensable to promote the increasing use of sugarcane bioethanol as from now.

Rural development issues, particularly regarding developing countries, are the key factor usually pointed out to give reason for the promotion of bioenergy, frequently linked to the rural poverty reduction agenda. The agricultural objectives foresee new opportunities, not only for modern commercial energy crop production, but also for small-scale production of more accessible goods. Increased biofuels use is a real opportunity to enlarge access to modern energy, including rural electrification and cooking fuel for advanced cooking stoves (to replace traditional use of firewood and charcoal). Considering the availability of unused lands or lands used for low-productivity cattleraising activities, the production of bioenergy and other byproducts from sugarcane is highly likely to increase, not only in Brazil, but also in other tropical-humid countries, benefiting from the progress achieved by the Brazilian innovative path.

Mariano Francisco Laplane
President of CGEE

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