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The potential for firstgeneration ethanol production from sugarcane
José Goldemberg, University of São Paulo, Brazil Patricia Guardabassi, Brazilian Reference Center on Biomass, São Paulo, Brazil Received June 18, 2009; revised version received September 17, 2009; accepted September 22, 2009 Published online December 9, 2009 in Wiley InterScience (; DOI:10.1002/bbb.186 Biofuels, Bioprod. Bioref. 4:17–24 (2010) Abstract: Ethanol production from sugarcane, mainly in Brazil, on the basis of first-generation technology (22.5 billion liters, in 2007/2008 season, in 3.4 million hectares) replaces 1% of the gasoline used in the world today and is highly competitive in economic terms with ethanol produced from other crops in the USA and Europe. In thispaper we discuss the potential for sugarcane ethanol expansion from two angles: (1) productivity gains which would allow greater production in the same area and (2) geographical expansion to larger areas. The potential of first-generation technology for the production of ethanol from sugarcane is far from being exhausted. There are gains in productivity of approximately a factor of two fromgenetically modified varieties and a geographical expansion by a factor of ten of the present level of production in many sugar-producing countries. The replacement of 10% of the gasoline used in the world by ethanol from sugarcane seems possible before second-generation technology reaches technological maturity and possibly economic competitiveness. © 2009 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley &Sons, Ltd Keywords: ethanol; productivity; first-generation



n technical grounds, ethanol is a good fuel for Otto cycle engines, either as a substitute for gasoline in slightly adapted motors (as an additive at levels up to 25%), in specially designed regular motors for pure ethanol, or in any mixture in ex-fuel cars. It is produced from agricultural products and does not havethe impurities present in petroleum products such as sulfur oxides and particulates, the main source of pollution in large metropolitan areas.1

Replacement of gasoline by ethanol from sugarcane in Brazil resulted in signi cant improvements in the quality of the air in the metropolitan area of São Paulo in the last 15 years.2 In addition, on a life-cycle basis (if proper feedstock and agriculturalpractices are used) it reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.3 According to Saldiva et al.4 the use of sugarcane ethanol replacing gasoline and diesel reduces GHG emissions, particulate matter and ozone precursors (nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – pollutants responsible for the formation of tropospheric ozone), thus reducing the negativeCorrespondence to: José Goldemberg, Av. Prof. Luciano Gualberto, 1289 – Cidade Universitária – CEP: 05508-010. Sao Paulo/SP - Brasil ¯ E-mail:

© 2009 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd


J Goldemberg, P Guardabassi

Perspective: Potential for first-generation ethanol production from sugarcane

impacts of these pollutants on human health. Di erentcrops can be used to produce ethanol but the most commonly used are corn, wheat, sugarbeet and sugarcane. e volume of ethanol as a fuel, replacing gasoline, is presently around 500,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day or 0.7% of the world’s oil consumption of 86 million barrels per day and approximately 3% of the gasoline in use in the world today. Ethanol is produced mainly in the USA (fromcorn) and in Brazil (from sugarcane). In 2008, the USA produced 34 billion liters, Brazil 22.5 billion liters and the European Union 2.7 billion liters (mainly from sugarbeet) with a grand total of 65.6 billion liters per year.5 e land in use for ethanol production 2008 in the USA was 8.13 million hectares6 and in Brazil, 3.4 million hectares. 7 Ethanol from sugarcane proved, so far, to be the most...