Welcome to the low carbon era. In recent years, relevant stakeholders have come together to create real change for a more positive future. Learn how ethanol and other sugarcane products are contributing to improved air quality around the world.

With the greenhouse effect and climate change altering the way we live around the world, the search for clean and renewable energy sources has never been so important. In recent years, policymakers, industry and society have come together to make a real change for better future. Through innovative solutions such as biofuels, the sugarcane industry is also playing its part in reducing both global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and local air pollution.

The greenhouse effect is a phenomenon caused by the concentration of certain gases, such as carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere. These gases are collectively known as greenhouse gases (GHG). The release of these gases in the atmosphere has been intensified by the use of fossil fuels, predominantly used in transportation and industry.

As well as CO2, internal combustion engines (ICE) vehicles release multiple air pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and particulate matter (PM 2.5). Besides negative impact on the environment, these harmful chemicals can cause cardiorespiratory diseases in humans.

Urgent action is already being taken around the world to support the move towards a low-carbon economy, from the European Union’s Green Deal to Brazil’s Green Economy. An important factor across these strategies is decarbonizing the transportation matrix, one of the largest causes of air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. Sugarcane ethanol is a low-carbon solution which can be used as a building block to produce a wide range of clean and renewable products to help us all to achieve this goal.

In this context, Brazil stands out as a major producer of sugarcane and therefore a leader in the transition to a low carbon economy. Sugarcane ethanol is a prime example of a product which supports the reduction of GHG emissions, cutting emissions by up to 90% when compared to fossil fuel. Since 2003, Brazil’s use of sugarcane ethanol, pure and blended, has avoided the country’s emissions of carbon dioxide by more than 515 million tons.


Sugarcane Air Quality

Several factors explain why sugarcane can reduce GHG so significantly compared to other alternatives:

In sugarcane fields, carbon stocks amount to 60 tons of carbon per hectare (including above and below ground and soil organic carbon). It means that a lot of carbon is stored in small portions of land, allowing for higher greenhouse gas reductions from the products produced in that area.

Sugarcane only needs to be replanted about every six years which reduces tilling of land that releases carbon dioxide. No-till techniques are also strongly encouraged, considerably lowering the amount of fuel necessary to run agricultural machinery in the field.

Sugarcane mills are self-sufficient when it comes to energy. They burn leftover stalks and leaves in boilers to produce enough bioelectricity to power their operations and often sell energy back to the grid. Producers can also obtain carbon credits from bioelectricity project.

The application of pesticides in Brazilian sugarcane fields is low and the use of fungicides practically nonexistent. Major diseases that threaten sugarcane are fought through biological control and advanced genetic enhancement programs. Brazilian sugarcane growers also apply relatively few industrialized fertilizers, due to the innovative use of organic fertilizers from recycled production residues. All of it reduces the demand for fossil-based roducts, improving sugarcane ethanol’s greenhouse benefits.

Each hectare of sugarcane produces more than 7,000 liters of ethanol. It means that with less input, including fossil fuels, more energy is produced, boosting greenhouse gas reduction benefits of sugarcane-based products.

Sugarcane ethanol and bioelectricity are renewable energy solutions that cut GHG significantly when compared to fossil fuels. But what does this environmental benefit mean in practice? Here are a few examples drawn from Brazil’s experience:

For every liter of ethanol consumed in a flex-fuel engine, that runs on either gasoline or ethanol, an average of 1.7kg less of CO2 is emitted. Since the start of Brazil’s ethanol program in 1975, more than 600 million tons of CO2 emissions have been avoided thanks to the use of this clean and renewable fuel.

Since flex-fuel vehicles were first launched in March 2003, Brazil has avoided emitting more than 515 million tons of carbon dioxide. To remove a similar amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, you would need to plant 4 billion native trees and maintain them for 20 years.


Replacing fossil fuels with ethanol not only reduces GHG emissions, but also improves air quality and public health.

Research by the Air Pollution Laboratory at São Paulo University’s Faculty of Medicine (for more read the “Ethanol and Health” study) confirmed the health benefits that can be created with increased ethanol use by studying the vehicle fleet of São Paulo, South America’s largest and most densely populated city. The researchers found that replacing gasoline and diesel with ethanol in that one city would:










Since air pollution is a recognized health crisis that affects many other densely-populated regions around the world, the results of this study can be extrapolated to other metropolitan areas with similar characteristics.

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