Sugarcane Ethanol Passes Test in California

Sugarcane ethanol passed a critical test late last week as the California Air Resources Board (CARB) approved its long-awaited Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). While the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) continues to provide evidence that sugarcane ethanol’s carbon intensity is even lower than initially calculated by CARB, the decision means sugarcane ethanol will be in greater demand in California in the years to come.

“The verifiable 90% greenhouse gas reduction delivered by sugarcane ethanol provides a source of low carbon fuel that achieves the goals of California’s ambitious regulation, with room to spare,” said Marcos Jank, UNICA’s president and CEO following the vote in Sacramento.

The LCFS is designed to reduce by 10% the carbon intensity of all transportation fuels used in California by 2020. As part of broader climate change regulations, CARB is calculating the carbon intensity of all fuels offered in the state. It has determined that the carbon intensity of gasoline is about 95 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule (gCO2/MJ), meaning that gasoline must reduce its carbon intensity to 86 gCO2/MJ by 2020 to meet the LCFS.

Additives such as biofuels will help gasoline meet the 10% reduction target, since many offer a much lower carbon intensity than gasoline. While preliminary CARB calculations indicate that sugarcane ethanol has a direct carbon intensity of 27 gCO2/MJ, comments submitted by UNICA to the Air Resources Board on April 17 point out that the 10-member Board failed to account for basic elements of sugarcane production and ethanol processing that directly affect that result. These include expanding mechanization of the cane harvest, increasing cogeneration and significant, ongoing reduction of pre-harvest field burnings.

“We congratulate California for leading the world in encouraging low carbon fuels. But any realistic evaluation of carbon emissions from sugarcane farming in Brazil must reflect the strict policies being implemented and action already taken to phase out sugarcane burning, increase mechanical harvesting and expand cogeneration output,” said Joel Velasco, UNICA Chief Representative in North America, who was present at the Board meeting in Sacramento.

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