Sugarcane is a multi-faceted solution which can contribute to the creation of a low carbon economy. With an innovative industry, sugarcane can be the source for new products which benefit society and the environment.


Ethanol, made from sugarcane, is used to produce a variety of different green plastics which are manufactured form renewable sources. As the discussion around the reduction of single-use plastic items continues to develop, the sugarcane trade provides an alternative solution which can reduce GHG emissions whilst maintaining full recycling capabilities of the plastic.


While first generation ethanol is made from the sucrose found in sugarcane juice and molasses, second generation ethanol, also known as cellulosic ethanol, is produced from fibers, or leftover sugarcane material. Whilst many mills and distilleries still use the by products of cane fiber (bagasse) and straw to provide bioelectricity, there remains a significant amount of energy left in the sugarcane plant. With new production techniques, it is possible to use this leftover bagasse to increase biofuel production, without increasing the land used for cultivation.


Biogas originates from the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter. It is composed, on average, of 60% methane, and practically 40% CO2, with traces of some gases such as hydrogen sulphide and others, depending on the type of substrate. In the case of the sugarcane sector, it is possible to produce biogas from vinasse, filter cake and even bagasse, by-products or residues from ethanol production. Biogas can be used to generate electricity (via motor generators or gas turbines), and can also be purified and transformed into biomethane.


Biomethane originates from the biogas purification process, opening up a wider range in its use. It can be injected directly into the gas concessionaire network, for various industrial and domestic uses, and can also be used as biofuel for light, medium or heavy vehicles in gas engines. In the case of the sugar and alcohol sector, vehicles and machines with biomethane engines can be used directly in sugarcane production, with the replacement of the current fleet of trucks and agricultural machines by diesel, providing a significant environmental gain in terms of GHG reduction.


The cosmetics industry can also benefit from sugarcane by-products. As well as using bioplastics in bottles and packaging, there are many active ingredients extracted from sugarcane that can be used in beauty products. One of the best examples of this is the use squalane, one of the must have ingredients in beauty products. In past years, squalane was naturally found in shark’s livers, but now it can also be produced from sugarcane.


One hundred million elephants

Eduardo Leão

Written by Eduardo Leão de Sousa, Executive-Director at UNICA  The elephant is the heaviest terrestrial animal on our planet. On average, it weighs 5 tonnes. […]


Sugarcane harvest for the second half of December 2020

Sugarcane harvest update in South-Central Brazil for the second half of December 2020 Harvest update – Bi-weekly bulletin

Sugarcane harvest for the second half of November 2020

Sugar production reached 427 thousand tons in the second half of November. Since the beginning of the 2020/2021 harvest up to December 1, accumulated sugar production […]