Ethanol fuels large-scale expansion of Brazil's farming land

September 17, 2019

A University of Queensland-led study has revealed that future demand for ethanol biofuel could potentially expand sugarcane farming land in Brazil by five million hectares by 2030.

UQ School of Earth and Environmental Sciences researcher Milton Aurelio Uba de Andrade Junior said that because Brazil produced ethanol from sugarcane, future biofuel demand would directly impact land use.

"Our study has modelled scenarios forecasting future ethanol demand based on different trajectories for gross domestic product, population growth, fuel prices, blending policies, fleet composition and efficiency gains," he said.

"A high demand scenario fuelled by strong economic and population growth, soaring gasoline prices, and ambitious blending targets, could mean that current demand for ethanol in Brazil will be doubled by 2030.

"If this scenario occurs, then Brazil will need an additional five million hectares of land for sugarcane crops to meet this high demand."

Mr de Andrade Junior said that most of the additional sugarcane farms were likely to expand into pasturelands, minimising impact on native forests.

"A key assumption of our modelling is that Brazil's land-use policies, such as the sugarcane agro-ecological zoning, will continue to promote the increase of agricultural yields while minimising environmental impacts," he said.

"However, in the current context of high uncertainty on the environmental agenda, such land use policies need to be closely monitored and supported to ensure that the country's natural ecosystems and biodiversity remain protected."
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The study published in Energy Policy was a collaboration between UQ, the International Institute for Applied System Analysis (IIASA - Austria) and the National Institute for Spatial Research (INPE - Brazil).

University of Queensland

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