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Demand for ethanol could fuel expansion of Brazilian farming land

A study carried out by researchers at the University of Queensland, Australia has shown that future demand for ethanol could potentially expand farming land used for sugarcane production in Brazil by five million hectares by 2030.

According to Milton Aurelio Uba de Andrade Junior, a researcher at the university’s school of earth and environmental sciences, future biofuel demand will directly impact land use in Brazil, which produces ethanol from sugarcane.

“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.”

The majority 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,” de Andrade Junior added.

“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.”

The study, which was published in the journal Energy Policy, was a collaboration between the University of Queensland, the International Institute for Applied System Analysis in Austria, as well as the National Institute for Spatial Research in Brazil.

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