Brazil's Biofuel Expansion Doesn't Directly Lead to Deforestation - But the Ranches it Displaces Do

brazil sugarcane photo

photo: Eugeni Dodonov via flickr.

Here's an interesting one on the connection between biofuel expansion in Brazil, cattle ranching, and deforestation: Mongabay is highlighting a new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which shows that expansion of biofuel production in Brazil won't directly lead to more deforestation, but will indirectly do so as it takes over land previously used for cattle ranching:Researchers from the University of Kassel in Germany determined that to hit Brazil's biofuel production targets for 2020 an additional of 57,200 square kilometers of sugarcane and 108,100 square kilometers more soybean will have to be grown. This will be in areas previously used for cattle, driving more deforestation as forest is cleared to create rangeland.

The report says,

In our simulations there is an expansion of 121,970 sq km of rangeland into forest areas, and 46,000 sq km into other native habitats, due to the expansion of biofuel croplands Sugarcane ethanol and soybean biodiesel would be responsible for 41% and 59% of this indirect deforestation, respectively.

40-200+ Years Needed to Pay Back the Carbon Debt
When this indirect land use is considered, the report says it would take 40 years of replacing gasoline with sugarcane-based ethanol and 211 years replacing diesel with soy-based biodiesel to offset the carbon emissions released and not stored by chopping down that forest.

Higher Yield Biofuel Crops Could Help
The authors say that planting oil palms on pastureland would still result in some deforestation by displacement of cattle, but there would significantly reduce emissions--and carbon payback time--because of oil palm's significantly higher fuel yield than either sugarcane or soybeans.

Read more: Mongabay
Biofuels Produced at the Expense of Tropical Forest Are No Victory: Bill Clinton Tells Brazil
New Cattle Pastures Far Bigger Problem Than Soy For Amazon Deforestation
Ethanol Now Fuels Over Half of Brazilian Cars & Light Vehicles

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