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Sugar Cane Plants – Good for Bio Ethanol?

by : Anna Sternfeldt, Sweden

Sugar cane plants are at the top as biofuel stocks, but how good are they? Here you'll learn about the criticism on growing sugar cane for alternative fuel.

Sugar cane is a perennial grass with fibrous stalks rich in sugar. It is two to six meters tall and reminds a bit of reeds in appearance as well as habit. Likely it originated from New Guinea and India but is otherwise considered native to tropical regions in Asia. Today it is spread to warm temperate and tropical areas all over the world.

Sugar cane production is of big importance for the bio ethanol industry today. The juice being pressed out from the sugar canes is fermented into ethanol. The leader, and the world's largest exporter of ethanol fuel from sugar cane, is Brazil.

Over the past few years, local organizations of peasants, Indigenous Peoples and human rights advocates have been organizing to try to draw attention to numerous concerns in relation to the project. However, local and national politicians have refused to heed their demands to halt the project. As a result those concerned called for an International Fact Finding Mission (IFFM) to be launched. This was convened from 30 May to 3 June 2011, to investigate the ways the company is engaging in land grabbing to obtain the needed fields for sugar cane plantation expansion. Evidence was also gathered regarding the environmental devastation inherent in the development, demonstrating concretely why the application to proceed as a CDM project should be rejected by the governments of the Philippines and Japan as well as the CDM Executive Committee.

Brazil is in some forum seen as "the world's first sustainable biofuels economy" and "the most successful alternative fuel to date".

Green Future Innovation’s claim of complying with the obligatory environmental impact assessment (EIA) requirements is also contentious because there was only a simple EIA conducted for the planned ethanol processing facility, rather than an overall EIA covering the intended 11,000 hectare project. Plantations have already encroached on productive farm areas, and forest lands that are under protection as restoration areas under Socialized Industrial Forestry Management Agreements. Furthermore, the project seriously threatens environmentally critical areas in the vicinity such as the interconnected watershed river systems of the Northern Sierra Madre Protected National Park. Landslides and erosion caused by seasonal typhoons are prevalent in many areas of San Mariano, and vast monocrop plantations of sugar cane will serve to exacerbate these conditions.

So what are the arguments for this story?

Well, for instance that the plantations to a big extent have been established on abandoned pasture land, that the energy for the production is coming from hydrogen power plants and therefore carbon low, and that sugar cane ethanol in comparison has an energy balance seven times greater than ethanol produced from corn.

    But the coin has Two Sides.
  • Sugar cane plants can be used in food production.
  • The plants need fertile and well-drained soil.
  • The plants need a minimum of 1,500 millimetres of rain each year OR access to irrigation.
  • Extra energy is required to keep weeds away when the plants are young.
  • The plants need much fertilisers.

With an ethical approach biofuel stocks should not be grown on land that can be used for food. They shouldn't either use up important scarce resources, like water. And they shouldn't contribute to increased pollution. As it is now, the nitrogen runoff from fertilisers diffuse pollutions into groundwater and into the sea.

As well, the land situation in Brazil is not just about abandoned pasture land. The fast expansion of sugar cane plants used in the production of bio ethanol has actually had bad impacts for the vast tropical savannah Cerrado, one of the richest biomes in the world, and also one of the most threatened.

Sugarcane (and soy) is among the key drivers of deforestation in the Cerrado.

Deforestation is one of the main causes of increased carbon emissions which therefore contravene the arguments behind the development of bio ethanol. The arguments that we must get rid of fossil fuel and mitigate the green house effect.

The expansion of sugar cane plantations has also lead to severe consequences for many indigenous people.

The production has displaced local food crops, and people have got sick from contamination caused by pesticides and herbicides and pollution from cane burning. In the state Mato Grosso do Sul, where the savannah merge into the Atlantic Forest, the increased competition for land has also created social tension with local farmers.

And this is not the only example where sugar cane plantations are causing land and human rights violations. A recent report reveals that sugarcane projects in Isabela, Philippines, are worsening land grabbing conflicts and socio-economic discrimination as well as undermining food self-sufficiency.

These are issues we must address when evaluating alternative fuel sources.

Source : www.best-alternative-fuel-sources.com

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