Sunday, August 2, 2009

learning about brazilian sugar cane

I'm currently in Sao Paulo, Brazil attending the 1st Brazil-US Biofuels Short Course organized by Fulbright Brazil. This post was originally posted at

I've learned a great deal about the Brazilian sugarcane ethanol industry in the past few days and I have some thoughts... Brazil is intent on expanding their ethanol production, essentially doubling production by 2020 - producing 1000 million metric tons of cane. This amount will translate to approximately 54 billion liters of ethanol per year (based on 26.6 Blpy produced currently).

I wonder where all of this extra ethanol is going to go? Some of the presenters in attendance suggested that up to 60% of ethanol might go to external markets. This estimate is subject to change because no one really knows what will happen 10 years from now, but it opens up interesting scenarios. How will Brazilian ethanol fit into the US fuel mix? How will carbon regulation affect the import of Brazilian ethanol into the US? What about other world markets (Europe, Asia)?

What's certain is that Brazil is going full steam ahead with increasing sugarcane production. This most likely means detrimental impacts on the land. The Amazon won't be directly affected, but any planting on the cerrado (savanna in the central region of Brazil) will have negative impacts on the land because of water usage or displacing grazing land or other crops.

With that said, I have developed an understanding of Brazil's fascination with sugarcane biofuels. As in the US, Brazil is using a domestic resource that they have experience with. In the US we have a lot of knowledge with growing corn and grain crops, and the same holds for Brazil and sugarcane. They're trying to make the most out or a domestic resource and we need to understand and learn from their mistakes and successes.

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