California has updated its calculations of sugarcane ethanol's emission reductions in a tacit admission of the contribution of the Brazilian biofuelÂ to the fight against global warming. The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (Unica), who had been asking for this, welcomed the announcement.
The new numbers are courtesy of theÂ California Air Resources Board (CARB).Â
"Unica applauds CARB's decision to revisit the data. The new proposal recognizes the science and gives reasonable credits to the mechanization of the sugarcane harvest, as well as the generation of bioelectricity with the burning of sugarcane bagasse," declared Joel Velasco, Unica's chief representative for North America.
In March, CARB approved its Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), the first in the world, which aims at reducing the "carbon intensity" of all fuels used in the state. Beginning in 2011, California's LCFS will reduce the carbon intensity of fuels, reaching at least a 10% reduction by 2020.
In its calculations, CARB determined that the carbon intensity of gasoline is about 95 grams of carbon dioxide per mega joule (gCO2/MJ), which means that the fuel will need to be reduced to a carbon intensity of 86 gCO2/MJ by 2020 to comply with the new regulations.
California alone has about 30 million vehicles – approximately the total number of cars of the Brazilian fleet – and consumes more than 15 billion gallons (60 billion liters) of gasoline per year.
CARB's original calculations stipulated that sugarcane ethanol had an intensity of 27 gCO2/MJ, plus other estimated indirect land use emissions of 46 gCO2/MJ, bringing the biofuel's total intensity to 73 gCO2/MJ.Â
The new analysis released by CARB allows Brazilian ethanol to receive a credit of more than 15 gCO2/MJ, due to the use of bioelectricity from sugarcane cogeneration (7 gCO2/MJ) and the mechanization of sugarcane harvestÂ (8.2 gCO2/MJ).
The general public will have until August 19 to submit any comment they might have about the new credits given to sugarcane ethanol. On August 5, 2009 there will be a public hearing in California about this issue.
Velasco argues that even if the indirect land use change (ILUC) – supposedly due to the expansion of sugarcane crops in Brazil and market-mediated effects elsewhere in the world – numbers are not corrected, Brazilian ethanol is already considered the liquid renewable fuel with the best performance available today.
But he adds: "We need to go further. We will keep working with the California regulators so that they fully recognize the extraordinary efforts undertaken to reduce emissions by mechanizing the harvest and the increasing expansion of energy cogeneration in our mills, avoiding the construction of fossil-fuel powered thermoelectric plants, which emit significant quantities of greenhouse gases."
For Unica's Velasco, the updates made by CARB show that the agency recognizes numbers that had already been accepted by other global entities such as the International Energy Agency (IEA). "This means that CARB accepts that sugarcane ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 90% when compared to gasoline. The remaining question is ILUC."
Unica will keep working with CARB and other groups in the United States to improve the LCFS even more, making sure that all reductions achieved by the Brazilian ethanol are recognized before the standard becomes effective on January 1, 2011.
"CARB has publicly undertaken the responsibility to perfect its numbers on carbon emissions for all fuels, especially with regards to emissions related to the controversial issue of ILUC. Therefore, the announcement of the credits for mechanization and cogeneration in Brazil are a very positive sign of how CARB is professionally addressing these difficult issues," added Velasco.
According to Unica's chief representative for North America it is vital now that verifiable data and updated research are taken into account with regards to ILUC, so that they can accurately reflect Brazil's agriculture dynamics.
"We are certain that an analysis based on concrete and reliable data will show that the indirect impact on land use by sugarcane in Brazil is at best marginal and not 46 gCO2/MJ, as CARB assumes. The same way we showed that direct emission were not 27 but 12, we will show that 46 is an exaggerated number."
The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (Unica) represents the top producers of sugar and ethanol in the country's South-Central region, especially the state of Sao 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.