How Sweet It Is - The Benefits of Growing Sugarcane For Biofuels
There's a lot of controversy about biofuels - especially the ones that come from potential food sources, such as corn. And sugarcane. But while corn is an important source of starch and a staple in many parts of the world, sugar rots your teeth.
So why not put it in your car instead?
If you're still in doubt, researchers from the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institute of Science's Stanford campus have found another reason to use sugarcane as a biofuel. In a report in Nature Climate Change, the team - led by Scott Loarie - determined "that expanding sugar cane into existing crop and pasture land has a direct local cooling effect that reinforces the indirect climate benefits of this land-use option."
Direct cooling effect? Yes. It turns out that replacing natural vegetation with most crops in Brazil's huge cerrado tropical savanna region results in a net increase in temperature of nearly 3°F, while sugarcane production only produces an increase of around 1.5°F. Sure, both of them produce an increase, but if you're replacing existing cropland with sugarcane, you'll get a net decrease of over one degree - which is pretty significant, when you consider that around a quarter of Brazil's fuel consumption comes from sugarcane, and that the cerrado is bigger than Alaska.
But it does raise the question: if Brazil already grows 60% of the world's sugarcane, and farmers continue to replace even more of their crops with it, then what are Brazil's 200 million people going to eat?
It's big business: