Sugarcane bagasse could benefit Brazil energy matrix

By Anna Austin
According to an analysis recently completed by researchers at Frost & Sullivan, Brazil may benefit from the use of sugarcane bagasse for power generation, reducing its dependence on hydropower.

Titled "Sugarcane Bagasse for Power Generation in Brazilian Markets," the study said biomass currently represents approximately 4.1 percent of the total installed energy capacity in Brazil, the majority of which is derived from sugarcane bagasse.

Julio Campos, industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan, said Brazil currently generates approximately 83 percent of its electricity through hydroelectric dams. "It will greatly depend on its water level, so during drought periods, the country may find serious problems to supply energy to the matrix," he said. "The creation of new installed capacity to generate energy from sugarcane bagasse will drive a very positive diversification of the Brazilian electric energy matrix."

The analysis said the sugarcane bagasse power market reached 3 gigawatts in 2007, estimating that number would increase to 12.2 gigawatts in 2014. To further support the expansion of sugarcane bagasse cogeneration technologies, Frost & Sullivan researchers recommended structured tax and financial policies, including the establishment of fair prices to pay back the high investment required of the mills.

According to UNICA, the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association, there are approximately 25 million hectares (61.8 million acres) of suitable degraded pastures available in Brazil for sugarcane expansion. Between 2007 and 2008, the annual gross earnings from sugarcane in Brazil amounted to approximately $20 billion, 2 percent of which came from biobased electricity.

UNICA estimated that sugarcane production will increase from approximately 496 million tons in 2007-'08 to more than 1 billion tons in 2020, and that the 3 percent of sugarcane currently used to produce electricity will rise to 15 percent. This is assuming 1 ton of sugarcane produces 250 kilograms (551 pounds) of bagasse, which generates 85.6 kilowatt-hours of electricity. Any excess biobased electricity produced in Brazil could supply countries such as Argentina and Sweden, the association said.