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October 12, 2016

5% of Brazil's Electricity comes from Sugar/Ethanol Mills

One of the advantages of producing sugar and ethanol from sugarcane is that the sugarcane residue can be used to power the mill. Many sugar/ethanol mills in Brazil burn the sugarcane residue in order to generate the needed electricity to run the facility. The mills that produce more electricity than what the mill consumes then sells the excess electricity back into the grid. In Brazil, 5% of the electricity consumed in the country is excess electricity generated by sugar/ethanol mills.

Brazil has a total of approximately 370 sugar/ethanol mills that produce sugar and ethanol from sugarcane. Approximately 180 of those mills generate enough excess electricity to power about 10 million homes. This electricity is considered clean and renewable and the sugarcane sector is eager to produce more. Estimates are that electricity from sugarcane could increase by 6 fold over the next decade.

One of the ways to increase electrical production from sugarcane is to collect and burn the leaves and residue that is left in the field during harvesting. It is estimated that electricity production could be increased by one-third just by burning the leaves.

The sugarcane harvest in Brazil is conducted generally from March through November or early December. The sugarcane harvest generally corresponds to the dry season in Brazil. This is important because most of Brazil's electricity is generated by hydropower and low water levels in the reservoirs during the dry season can sometimes disrupt electrical generation. Therefore, electricity generated from sugar/ethanol mills can help to fill the void during the dry season.

The concept of producing more electricity from sugarcane was the topic of discussion last week at the First Bioelectricity Seminar - Electricity from Sugarcane, which was held in Belo Horizonte, which is the capital of the state of Minas Gerais. The goal of the seminar was to generate interest in bioelectricity and to emphasize that electricity produced from sugarcane needs to be included in the clean energy debate.

The state of Minas Gerais is actually ahead of other states when it comes to generating electricity from sugarcane residue. The state has 35 sugar/ethanol mills with 22 producing excess electricity and two more will do so in 2017. These 24 sugar/ethanol mills will represent 85% of the sugarcane processed in the state in 2017. The 35 sugar/ethanol mills in Minas Gerais generate 61,000 jobs in the 120 municipalities that produce sugarcane.