February 22, 2016

Bioelectricity Supplies 10% of Brazils Electrical Needs

Brazil is the largest sugarcane producer in the world and in addition to producing sugar and ethanol from that sugarcane, the sugar mills of Brazil produce another valuable product - electricity. The electricity is produced by burning the sugarcane residue and it not only supplies the electricity needed to operate the sugar mill, the excess electricity is sold back into the electrical grid.

According to data from International Renewable Electricity (IRENA), in 2014 Brazil had the largest installed capacity to produce biomass electricity or bioelectricity in the world with 15.3% of the total capacity. In second place was the United States with 13.6% followed by China (11.8%), India (6.2%), and Japan (5%).

Not only does bioelectricity help to diversify the electrical generation in Brazil, it also helps Brazil to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gases. At the Paris Climate Conference last December, Brazil committed to reducing greenhouse gases by 43% by 2030 (compared to levels of 2005) in addition to getting 45% of its electricity from renewable sources. The generation of bioelectricity will be a critical in reaching those goals.

According to the Union of Sugarcane Industries (Unica), bioelectricity generation increased 7% in 2015 and there was enough bioelectricity to supply 11 million residents. Bioelectricity already represents approximately 10% of the electricity consumed in Brazil according to the National Electrical Emery Agency (ANEELL) and there is tremendous opportunities for expansion.

Unica reported that in 2014 there were 355 sugar mills operating in Brazil, but only 177 of those mills produce enough surplus electricity from the burning of the sugarcane residue to sell back into the electrical grid. Most of the mills not producing surplus electricity are older mills that could be retrofitted to increase their electrical generation. Approximately 80% of the bioelectricity generated in Brazil comes from sugar mills and there is tremendous potential for expansion.

The president of Unica, Elizabeth Farina, estimates that with the proper investments to modernize the countrys sugar mills, the amount of bioelectricity generated in Brazil could increase eight times by the year 2024 (compared to 2014).

Another advantage of increasing bioelectricity production in Brazil would be to relieve some of the pressure on the countrys hydroelectric reservoirs in southeastern Brazil. Brazil already gets the majority of its electricity from hydroelectric dams, but a drought in southeastern Brazil reduced the water levels in the hydroelectric reservoirs to critical low levels in 2015. The situation was so dire in early 2015, that electrical rationing was instituted in several large Brazilian cities. The water levels have increased in recent months due to heavy rains, but the drought exposed the weakness of relying so heavily on only one source of electrical generation.

Unica is the organization that represents the majority of the sugar, ethanol, and bioelectricity producers in the center-south region of Brazil. Unica associates produce approximately 50% of Brazils sugar production and 60% of Brazils ethanol production.