All You Want to Know.. On Sugar Bioethanol!

On Monday, May 20th– we spent the majority of our morning at SURCAL- a sugar bioethanol producer. I learned a lot while there, so I am going to take some time to inform you on all that I learned through the Directors that took the time to speak with us. J

Brazil is the largest producer of sugar in the world as well as the largest producer of sugar bioethanol.  At one point in the recent past, 85% of cars produced in the world ran solely on bioethanol, now less than 1% of cars produced run solely on ethanol. Sugar and ethanol come from the same crop. A flex motor can run on ethanol or gasoline. This was developed in the 90’s. Now 85% of all cars produced have this motor. When ethanol is 70 % lower than the price of gas, that it’s one it becomes advantageous to produce ethanol. The production of ethanol is also more advantageous than the production of gasoline.

Sugarcane was introduced to Brazil in the 1500’s. Brazil has been working with sugar cane for more than 500 years. Cuba used to produce more sugarcane, but not anymore. 550 million tons of sugarcane are produced a year. Roughly a 50/50 split between ethanol and sugar. This increase is due to more land, new technology and new cultivars. Burning of land in sugarcane harvesting is now prohibited.  1 acre burned of sugar cane is the equivalent of 30 barrels of petroleum going into the atmosphere.

Now there is new areas of Brazil that are being used to grow crops for sugar. This is to Brazil as the west is to the United States. The sugarcane is renewed on cycles. In a field there are typically 6-7 crops. They are on rotation. Planting of the sugarcane is the biggest production cost.

Cycle: sugarcane= sugar = energy

Sugarcane= ethanol = energy

Energy produced amounts to about 5-6% of Brazil’s total energy production in a year. In the future, they would like 10-11% of total energy production to come from sugarcane. There is now research being done on the economic gain from producing more alcohol from the byproduct or producing energy with the byproduct. This doesn’t take into account the energy demand of Brazil’s residents.

One take away: decisions are always being made based on the economic benefit; what action is the most cost effective.

Production plants: must be flat; logistics= close to rivers and highways; the plants must be able to produce 1.5 million tons or more a year.

Importance of sugarcane to the development of Brazil:

Way back when it created a lot of employment- 1000 people on a farm x 400 farms= a lot of people.

Biggest problems is not production, but the technology of transporting goods in a timely manner as well as logistics. In example, the US has given much attention to water transportation like canals and dams. This makes it very cheap. Rail has been hurt very bad… it was privatized and now rail is trying to make up for lost time. Water transport is cheapest and then rail is after that. Does Brazil need to be following in the footsteps of the US regarding the dam infrastructure for subsidized agricultural crops? I say: NO.

A few take aways from SURCAL:  I am completely floored and amazed that there are sustainable companies such as this that are continually looking to make better processes and try to reduce waste. I would not be surprised if within the next few years SURCAL becomes completely green in that they don’t need to rely on any outside sources for their production, and also have zero waste.  Before going to Brazil I was operating on this assumption that Brazil is one of the most sustainable countries in the planet—I still agree with this assumption, although they are doing other things- like wanting to invest in dam infrastructure that changes my mind.


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