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Burning Sugarcane Fields Bad for Ethanol's Carbon Footprint, Researchers Find


Ethanol is already established as a good biofuel source and is being blended with gasoline to make the fossil fuel cleaner-burning. But ethanol that is made from sugarcane crops has been found dirtier than previously thought, if the fields are burned prior to harvesting.

The discovery has been made by a team of researchers from the University of California, Merced, led by Chi-Chung Tsao, who was aided by professors Elliott Campbell and Yihsu Chen.

According to the study published in this week’s issue of the Nature Climate Change journel, Brazilian farmers are to be blamed for this practice – some of them burn the croplands, thus introducing massive amounts of carbon dioxide.

“There is a big strategic decision our country and others are making, in whether to develop a domestic biofuels industry or import relatively inexpensive biofuels from developing countries,” Campbell said. “Our study shows that importing biofuels could result in human health and environmental problems in the regions where they are cultivated.”

They used satellites to measure the air pollution levels in Brazil, but the researchers think that in reality they are two times higher, due to many smaller, individual fires.

In my opinion, this phenomenon is mostly dictated by the NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) attitude that developed countries have toward carbon emissions. While the richest brag with their air cleanness, the situation is not the same for countries like China or Brazil, where cheap things are produced, where there’s enough land to fully cover everybody’s production needs and where the population density is higher, hence the workforce cheaper.

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  1. Seems like a no brainer to me. I can understand why the cane fields were burned in the past, but in todays world we need to harvest the whole plant; stalks and leaves.

    The cane plants should then be bio processed for their many chemicals, as well as the sugars.

    We are starting to do this now with corn, and it does add value to the crop.


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