Sustainable Agriculture in Brazil
CHAPTER 4 - RENEWABLE AGRO-ENERGY
THE LIQUlD BIOFUELS PRODUCTION: ETHANOL
The main biofuel in Brazil is ethanol, produced from sugarcane. lts use in automobile engines began in the 1920s. The bi-fuel car is the best symbol of ethanol’s success: of the 1.98 million light vehicles licensed in 2016 in Brazil, 88% were flexfuel.
Sugarcane is one of the main crops of Brazil’s economy. In addition to producing ethanol and generating electricity with bagasse, sugarcane maintains the country as the world’s largest sugar producer and exporter. The country accounts for 48% of the international sugar trade.
For the 2015/2016 crop, 10.8 million hectares were planted, producing 666.8 million tons of sugarcane, transformed into 33.8 million tons of sugar and 302,000 m³ of ethanol and anhydrous alcohol.
The sugar/ethanol ratio fluctuates year by year, around 5%, depending on the international prices of each product. In rounded-off numbers, half of the production is for sugar and half for ethanol.
The production of ethanol guaranteed 5.3% of the Brazilian energy matrix in 2016. It served a circulating fleet of 25 million vehicles powered by ethanol or biofuels (58.4% of the total fleet). And anhydrous alcohol is added to the fuel of another 13.5 million gasoline-powered vehicles, in proportions ranging from 18% to 25%. The bagasse of sugarcane accounts for 11.7% more of bioelectricity in the energy matrix.
Brazilian ethanol, produced from sugar cane, has clearly documented economic and environmental advantages over ethanol produced from other sources such as beet, sorghum and corn (North America’s option). The energy balance of Brazilian ethanol – that is, the ratio between the fossil energy used to produce it and the energy contained in the fuel produced – is highly positive. There are nine renewable energy units for each unit of fossil energy used in its production. According to the World Watch Institute, this ratio is about four times that of ethanol produced on the European continent and almost five times that of ethanol produced from corn. Brazilian ethanol from sugarcane reduces carbon emissions by about 90% compared with using gasoline; in addition, it also reduces exhaust pollutants from engines.
The increasing consumption of ethanol and anhydrous alcohol creates a permanent need to expand production in Brazil. If 50% of the national fleet uses ethanol in 2020, the production of sugarcane should be around 1.2 billion tons. And the total would reach 1.5 billion tons if 80% of the fleet uses ethanol.
This will mean increasing sugarcane production by 150%, without increasing the planted area at the same rate. Innovative second generation ethanol extraction technologies, using stocks and bagasse, will change this picture positively. Two second-generation ethanol production plants using sugarcane residues and bagasse are already operating in Brazil.
Ethanol and anhydrous alcohol are renewable fuels, very efficient as carbon dioxcide emission reducers. All the carbon emitted during combustion is taken out of the atmosphere during the annual renewal of plantings and crops. These two fuels replace the use of gasoline completely or partially. Also, there is no emission of nitrogen oxide or sulfur, and the emission of fine particulates and other pollutants is lower. Ethanol plays an important role in improving the air quality in large Brazilian cities, with benefits for the health of the population and the environment – another example of agriculture exporting sustainability to large urban areas.
THE LIQUID BIOFUELS PRODUCTION: BIODIESEL
The same vegetable oil used in salads or in the production of margarines can be used for fuel in buses, trucks and tractors throughout the country. Since 2008, all diesel fuel sold in Brazil is required to have biodiesel in the mixture. Today, the ratio of biodiesel to mineral diesel is 10% and the outlook is for this to increase to 12% by 2020. According to ABIOVE, the change in the mixture from 8% to 10% requires more than 3.5 million tons of soybeans for 700 thousand tons of oil. This processing results in 2.8 million tons of protein bran, destined for the domestic and foreign markets. In addition to the environmental and human health benefits,
B10 contributes to developing the biodiesel industry, to feeding people and animals, and to generating employment and income in Brazil.
Brazil’s production of biodiesel has been surprising: in 2008, 1.2 billion liters were produced; in 2010, the amount reached 2.4 billion liters and in 2015 the total was 3.9 billion liters, although in 2016 there was a slight reduction to 3.8 billion liters. All biodiesel production is consumed without surplus. There are 3 million toe. And with the right policies, agriculture still has the capacity to double the production of oils and other lubricants destined for biodiesel.
Currently, in terms of volume, the main renewable sources of biodiesel guaranteed by Brazilian agriculture and livestock raising are, approximately: soybeans (77%), beef tallow (20%), cotton (1.5%) and used frying oil (1.5%). Biodiesel from beef tallow is a bit cheaper than soybean oil. Each slaughtered bovine supplies, on average, 15 kg of usable tallow. The tallow next to the skin is not used. For several years there has been no inauguration of a slaughterhouse or cold-storage unit in Brazil without a biodiesel plant as part of it.
The energy utilization of animal agricultural residues is significant in the production of biodiesel. The annual Brazilian production of animal fats is around 1.95 million tons. Beef tallow, responsible for 20% of biodiesel produced in Brazil, replaces the use of fossil diesel – one more contribution to the reduction of CO2 emissions coming from Brazilian cattle ranching (not computed in the partial evaluation of methane emissions from cattle excrement, mentioned above).
The decomposition of one cattle carcass alone releases 1.2 tons of carbon dioxide, on average. Recycling avoids the rotting of carcasses and remains. Recycled animal fat is the source of energy that emits less greenhouse gases per megajoules of stored calories, according to European Community Directive 30/2009.
Thanks to biodiesel (and mainly to soybean oil), imports of fossil diesel have been falling, down 38% from 2014 through 2015. The total amount of imported diesel sold in Brazil fell from 19% in 2014 to 12% in 2015.
The use of biodiesel reduces the level of atmospheric pollutant emissions, due to the lower consumption of fossil diesel. Biodiesel plays a role analogous to that of ethanol in improving air quality in large cities, especially because of the significant reduction of sulfur and black smoke emissions by vehicles. Biodiesel is yet another example of how agriculture exports sustainability to cities.
Moreover, this form of biofuel does not require the use of additives and its combustion (without mixing) emits an average of 48% less carbon monoxide than petroleum diesel. Biodiesel emissions contain 47% less particulate matter, which is very harmful to the lungs. And, thanks to its combustion characteristics, it also generates 67% less hydrocarbons. As in sugarcane, all the carbon emitted during combustion is removed from the atmosphere in the annual renewal of plantings and crops. Considering the production chain as a whole, biodiesel reduces CO2 emissions by more than 75%.
From the book: Shades of Green – Sustainable Agriculture in Brazil (2018)
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-  The etanol (sold at gas stations) contains around 4% of water, while the anhydrous ethanol (mixed with gasoline) has practly no water content.
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