Using SugarCane to Produce Ethanol

Barbara10Broek By Barbara10Broek, 23rd Sep 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Science>Environmental Science

Discusses the production of biofuel in Brazil using sugarcane.


Imagine a fuel that does not come from the Middle East, is about six times more economical to produce than corn ethanol and has the potential to help the environment because it requires few chemicals to grow. Producing ethanol from sugarcane, instead of corn, in Brazil is roughly seven times more efficient (with respect to the ratio of energy output to fossil fuel input) than producing ethanol from corn in the United States. However, more than this one statistic is needed to compare these two fuel technologies.

Brazil’s sugarcane ethanol fuel program began 30 years ago during its first oil crisis. The government adopted mandatory regulations on the amount of ethanol to be mixed with gasoline, and it subsidized ethanol production, mainly through taxes on gasoline. Now Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of ethanol, and Brazilian ethanol is competitive with gasoline in international markets.

Sugarcane prefers warm climates, and in the United States the largest sugarcane producers are Florida, Louisiana, Hawaii, and Texas. American farmers also grow sugar beets in states with temperate climates. Currently, none of this sugar gets fermented into ethanol.

We eat all the sugar we produce, and we import another 20 percent of the sugar we consume. On average, each year every American gobbles down more than 40 pounds of refined sugar, nearly 45 pounds of corn-derived sweeteners, and just over a pound of honey and syrup. Annual per-capita sweetener consumption is the equivalent of about seven gallons of ethanol.Because of the high cost of sugar in the United States, the domestic production of ethanol from sugar is not economically competitive with the production of ethanol from corn, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Brazil has an ideal climate for growing sugarcane, as well as low sugar prices. Despite these advantages, Brazil had a 15-year “learning curve” before its ethanol became cost-competitive with gasoline.

One reason for the efficiency of Brazilian sugarcane ethanol is that bagasse—the residue from sugarcane processing—is burned to provide heat for the distillation and electricity to run the machinery. Corn stover—stalks and leaves—could be used for this purpose, but it is not usually harvested.

The efficiency of corn-based ethanol could also be improved with the development of corn varieties that have higher starch content, or better enzymes to process the starch into sugar. In the meantime, the United States is protecting its corn-based ethanol industry with an import duty of 54 cents per gallon levied on Brazilian ethanol.
Both technologies raise concerns about the clearing of wild land for agriculture and the use of food to fuel vehicles.


Alternative Fuel, Biofuel, Brazil, Corn, Sugarcane

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author avatar juny
23rd Sep 2011 (#)

that would be great....!

thanks for sharing :)

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author avatar Barbara10Broek
23rd Sep 2011 (#)

Thanks for reading!

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