Unlike corn-based ethanol produced in the United States, sugarcane-based ethanol in Brazil does not lead to increased food prices. A 2008 World Bank Report stated that “…large increases in biofuels production in the United States and Europe are the main reason behind the steep rise in global food prices” and also stated that “Brazil’s sugar-based ethanol did not push food prices appreciably higher.” The report also went on to state that Brazilian ethanol does not raise the price of sugar either.
Brazilian sugarcane-based ethanol reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by over 50%, including land use change, compared to regular gasoline. Brazilian ethanol is so environmentally efficient that it passed the Californian Low-Carbon Fuel Standards and the federal Renewable Fuel Standards, qualifying it as an “advance fuel”. Not including land use change, sugarcane-based ethanol can reduce GHG emissions by up to 90%. This is much better than the 20% reduction in GHG emissions from corn-based ethanol.
However, many environmental groups are concerned that ethanol production in Brazil is occurring at the expense of the rain forest. The graph below shows land use change in 2 Brazilian states, Sao Paulo and Mato Grasso. Sao Paulo is where the majority of sugar is grown in Brazil and Mato Grasso is the region experiencing the faster deforestation rates. This graph, along with other studies, shows that the majority sugarcane growth is replacing old pasturelands in Sao Paulo. Embrapa, the Brazilian Agriculture Research Corporation, whose mission is sustainable development, estimates that is enough arable land to increase sugarcane production by 30 times without endangering ecosystems or taking land destined for other crops. However, it is unclear yet if sugarcane expansion in Sao Paulo is forcing other crops expand into Mato Grasso and cause deforestation.
Walter, Arnaldo. “Sustainability Assessment of Bio-Ethanol Production in Brazil Considering Land use Change, GHG Emissions and Socio-Economic Aspects.” Energy Policy 39.10 (2011): 5703-16.
José Goldemberg (2008-05-01). “The Brazilian Biofuels Industry”. Biotechnology for Biofuels 1 (6): 4096.