Sugarcane and global warming. What do they have to do with each other? Everything, says the Brazilian sugarcane industry, when you consider Brazil's highly successful, 30-year experience with sugarcane as a feedstock for ethanol.
And they explain: In place since the mid-70s, the largest program in the world to replace a fossil fuel with renewable energy has saved some 600 million tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It would take 20 years for six billion trees to achieve the same results.
Details of the Brazilian success story will be presented at a panel this Wednesday, June 24, during Green Week, the largest annual conference on the European Union's environmental policies, scheduled from June 23 to 26 in Brussels.
At its booth in the exhibit area, the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA), the largest organization representing Brazil's sugar-energy industry, will also provide detailed information about the efficiency of large-scale production and use of sugarcane ethanol as a motor fuel to reduce GHG emissions.
In Brazil, the biofuel replaces over half the country's gasoline needs by volume, making gasoline the alternative fuel. Flex-fuel cars introduced in 2003, which run on any mixture of gasoline and ethanol, now account for 34% of Brazil's entire light vehicle fleet and close to 90% of new light vehicle sales.
According to the senior international affairs advisor to UNICA's president, Geraldine Kutas, the idea is to detail the impressive performance of sugarcane in the production of ethanol and other value-added products, and its subsequent impact on Brazil's energy matrix: 46% of it is composed by renewable sources.
"Brazil could be a low-carbon economy. Unfortunately, even though the country is a large renewable energy producer, it is also the fourth largest emitter of carbon, because of deforestation. The fight against climate change requires ambitious public policies and joint leadership from the government and the public sector," Kutas concludes.
The International Energy Agency has recently confirmed that sugarcane ethanol can deliver a verifiable reduction in GHG emissions that can exceed 100% when compared to the use of gasoline, provided that surplus electricity generated in the production process is sent to distribution grids.
All of Brazil's nearly 400 sugar and ethanol mills are self-sufficient in electricity, and a growing number of mills are generating a surplus by using cane straw and bagasse, which is what's left of the sugarcane after it has been processed into ethanol and sugar.
More than 100 countries around the world already grow sugarcane, and UNICA advocates that many of them can benefit from the same cane-based energy technology developed in Brazil.
During Green Week, Kutas will participate in the panel "Climate Change: What can be asked of emerging economies?" sponsored by UNICA and organized by the Friends of Europe group, one of the main independent think tanks in Brussels. The panel is part of the simultaneous event "European Policy Summit – Climate Change: keys to a concerted policy shift," which will include presentations from the director-general of the European Commission for Environment and Climate Change Strategy Job Delbeke; the president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and founder of Development Alternatives — a Delhi-based non-governmental organization, Ashok Khosla; and the senior manager of the Center for Carbon Capture and Storage of the South African National Energy Research Institute, Tony Surridge.
The event, organized by the DG Environment of the European Commission and themed "Climate Change: act and adapt," expects to bring 3500 participants from EU institutions, corporations, non-governmental organizations, public officials and members of the scientific community and academia. For more information, visit the website: http://greenweek2009.alligence.com/
UNICA's presence at the event falls within the scope of the Apex-Brasil/UNICA project, launched in January of 2008. This partnership with the Export and Investment Promotion Agency (Apex-Brasil) of Brazil's Federal Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade, is designed to globally promote Brazilian sugarcane-based ethanol as a clean and renewable energy.
UNICA represents the top producers of sugar and ethanol in Brazil's South-Central region, especially the state of São Paulo, which accounts for about 50% of the country's sugarcane harvest and 60% of total ethanol production. UNICA develops position papers, statistics and specific research in support of Brazil's sugar, ethanol and bioelectricity sectors.
In 2008, Brazil produced an estimated 565 million metric tons of sugarcane, which yielded 31.3 million tons of sugar and 25.7 billion liters (6.8 billion gallons) of ethanol, making it the number one sugarcane grower and sugar producer in the world, and the second-largest ethanol producer on the planet behind the United States, which produces ethanol from corn.