Expansion of sugarcane cultivation in Brazil for ethanol production in areas not under environmental protection or reserved for food production could potentially replace up to 13.7% of world crude oil consumption and reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) by as much as 5.6% by 2045.

These estimates come from an international study with Brazilian participation, whose results were published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The study set out to investigate how the expansion of sugarcane ethanol could help limit the rise in average global temperatures to less than 2 °C by reducing CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels, as agreed by the 196 countries that signed the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015.

The study was conducted as part of a project supported by the São Paulo Research Foundation – FAPESP and by the Na-tional Institute of Science and Technology for Bioethanol – INCT Bioethanol.

The analysis showed that sugarcane cultivation for ethanol production could expand to between 37.5 million and 116 million hectares and that sugarcane ethanol could supply the equivalent of between 3.63 million and 12.77 million barrels of oil per day in 2045 given the projected climate change, while at the same time ensuring conservation of forests and areas reserved for food production.

As a result, it would be possible to reduce oil consumption by 3.8%-13.7% and net global emissions of CO2 by 1.5%-5.6% by 2045 compared with data for 2014.

“Our findings show it’s possible to reconcile the two key goals to which Brazil committed as part of the Paris accord: conservation of natural environments, especially the Amazon, and increasing use of renewable energy,” said Marcos Buckeridge, a professor at IB-USP and one of the authors of the article.

The authors of the study note that sugarcane ethanol is a near-term scalable solution to the problem of reducing CO2 emissions in the global transportation sector.

Production of fuel ethanol from sugarcane in Brazil is far more efficient than corn ethanol production, they argue. Its CO2 emissions correspond to only 14% of oil’s. Moreover, emissions resulting from land-use change to sugarcane cultivation can be offset in just two to eight years.

“Rapid scalability is fundamental: this is what’s needed to accelerate society’s responses to climate change,” Buckeridge said. “All the evidence suggests the average global temperature rise will exceed 1.5 °C in 2030. That’s not far off. Brazilian ethanol can be a great help to the planet.”