Long-term prospects for the environmental profile of advanced sugar cane ethanol

Environ Sci Technol. 2014 Oct 21;48(20):12394-402. doi: 10.1021/es502552f. Epub 2014 Oct 2.


This work assessed the environmental impacts of the production and use of 1 MJ of hydrous ethanol (E100) in Brazil in prospective scenarios (2020-2030), considering the deployment of technologies currently under development and better agricultural practices. The life cycle assessment technique was employed using the CML method for the life cycle impact assessment and the Monte Carlo method for the uncertainty analysis. Abiotic depletion, global warming, human toxicity, ecotoxicity, photochemical oxidation, acidification, and eutrophication were the environmental impacts categories analyzed. Results indicate that the proposed improvements (especially no-til farming-scenarios s2 and s4) would lead to environmental benefits in prospective scenarios compared to the current ethanol production (scenario s0). Combined first and second generation ethanol production (scenarios s3 and s4) would require less agricultural land but would not perform better than the projected first generation ethanol, although the uncertainties are relatively high. The best use of 1 ha of sugar cane was also assessed, considering the displacement of the conventional products by ethanol and electricity. No-til practices combined with the production of first generation ethanol and electricity (scenario s2) would lead to the largest mitigation effects for global warming and abiotic depletion. For the remaining categories, emissions would not be mitigated with the utilization of the sugar cane products. However, this conclusion is sensitive to the displaced electricity sources.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Biofuels / statistics & numerical data*
  • Biomass
  • Brazil
  • Environment*
  • Environmental Pollution*
  • Ethanol / isolation & purification*
  • Eutrophication
  • Global Warming
  • Humans
  • Saccharum / chemistry*
  • Sugar Alcohols
  • Uncertainty


  • Biofuels
  • Sugar Alcohols
  • Ethanol