EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Significant land-sparing potentials from implementing carbon capture and utilization for the Brazilian sugarcane ethanol industry

Luis Ramirez Camargo1,2, Gabriel Castro1,3, Katharina Gruber1, Michael Klingler1,4, Olga Turkovska1, Elisabeth Wetterlund5,6, and Johannes Schmidt1
Luis Ramirez Camargo et al.
  • 1Institute for Sustainable Economic Development, University of Natural and Life Science Vienna, Vienna, Austria (
  • 2Vehicle and Energy Research Group (EVERGI), Mobility, Logistics and Auto-motive Technology Research Centre (MOBI), Department of Electrical Engineering and Energy Technology, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium
  • 3Energy Planning Program, Graduate School of Engineering, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • 4Department of Geography, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria
  • 5Energy Engineering, Division of Energy Science, Luleå University of Technology, Luleå, Sweden
  • 6International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), 2361 Laxenburg, Austria

Brazil is the global frontrunner in the production of sugarcane ethanol. Strong national biofuels policies, a consolidated internal demand for ethanol for transportation purposes, and a global growing demand for sugar and ethanol have supported this development. The sugarcane ethanol industry has contributed to economic growth, technological progress, job creation and is among the key strategies for mitigating CO2 emissions in Brazil. However, the industry is also responsible for a wide range of undesirable impacts on land. Biodiversity loss, structural soil degradation, pollution, and depletion of water sources can result from the associated direct and indirect land-use change. We therefore assess the potential of a carbon capture and utilization pathway to increase the fuel production of this industry in a land-neutral way. 

The pathway combines the almost clear surplus CO2-stream from the ethanol fermentation process with H2 produced using wind and solar power to synthesize methanol. The change of use of land from sugarcane production to renewable electricity generation is an intensification step which allows to spare significant amounts of land.

To understand the implications of this pathway in terms of land-use and cost, we develop a spatio-temporal model to determine the cost-optimal system configuration, the resulting land effciency, and consequently the land sparing potential. The core of the model consists of a techno-economic optimization model that minimizes cost for a system that includes variable renewable electricity generation (wind and solar power), storage (electricity, CO2 and H2), electrolyzers and methanol synthesis installations for each one of the sugarcane ethanol production plants in the country. The optimization model relies crucially on two time-series which we derived specifically for each Brazilian ethanol plant based on a consolidated spatially explicit data set of sugarcane ethanol installations: first, individual time series of the CO2-streams from ethanol fermentation, and second multi-year time series of wind and solar power in hourly temporal resolution using ERA5 and ERA5-land reanalysis data. Furthermore, we extensively review costs of individual system components and derive footprints of Brazilian solar and wind power plants from satellite imagery.

The proposed pathway leads to a combined amount of ethanol and methanol that represents an increase of  43%-49% compared to the current output of the ethanol industry in energetic terms. This amounts to around 100 TWh of methanol that would be sufficient to cover the projected growth in Brazil biofuel demand until 2030. In contrast, if the same amount of energy would be provided by sugarcane ethanol, produced at the current average Brazilian sugarcane-to-ethanol land-use efficiency, an additional 23,000 km2 - 27,000 km2 of land would be required. This underlines the significant land sparing potential of the proposed pathway. 

How to cite: Ramirez Camargo, L., Castro, G., Gruber, K., Klingler, M., Turkovska, O., Wetterlund, E., and Schmidt, J.: Significant land-sparing potentials from implementing carbon capture and utilization for the Brazilian sugarcane ethanol industry, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-10036,, 2022.