GAF - Global Agribusiness Forum

Energy sustainability

By Evaristo de Miranda 

The source of 68% of all renewable energy in the country, which has ensured 28% of the Brazilian energetic matrix in 2015, is agricultural.  A single case in the world for an industrialized country and with such territorial scale as Brazil.  In addition, last year, for the first time, the wind power generation surpassed the nuclear power.  There were 1,859,750 tons of oil equivalent (TOE) ensured by the winds, compared with 1,267,124 TOE generated by nuclear powerplants, according to the ever-excellent Brazilian Energy Balance (Balanço Energético Nacional - BEN), just published by the Company for Energy Research (Empresa de Pesquisa Energética - EPE).

The generation of nuclear power has remained constant for years.  And there was not, and will not be in the short term, an increase of nuclear power plants. Now, the wind power industry has benefited from several incentives, growing 77% a year and will continue to grow. But the contribution of wind power to the energetic matrix is still little: 1.3%. This historical landmark of wind plants has gone almost unnoticed, as well as the role of agriculture in the generation of renewable energy.

The participation of renewable energy in the national energetic matrix was of 41.2% in 2015. A fantastic record. And has reached over 45% in some years, due to climate, economical and other factors. The global average of renewable energy in the energetic matrix in of only 13.5%. Such contribution is even lower in countries member of the Organization for the Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD): 9.4%. This means that in developed countries, more than 90% of the energy is dirty, generally originated from oil, gas and mineral coal. This can be assessed through CO2 emissions.

Each Brazilian emits seven times less CO2 than an American and three times less CO2 than an European or Chinese, despite the huge Chinese population. Thanks to renewable energy, for the production of 1 MWh, the Brazilian energy industry emits three times less CO2 than the European, four times less than the North American and six times less than the Chinese.

In addition to being a great producer of food and fibers, the Brazilian agricultural industry has widened its capacity to generate power in an unique scale in the world. Brazilian agricultural industry produced solid fuel (wood and vegetable coal), liquid fuel (ethanol and biodiesel), gas fuel (biogas and gas from vegetable coal) and energetic (cogeneration of electric and thermal energy with agricultural byproducts, such as sugar cane bagasse, lixivium, straw, splinters, etc.).

Just the energetic products from sugar cane have ensured 16.9% of the total energy consumed in Brazil in 2015, a contribution superior to all hydroelectric powerplants combined (11.3%)! Wood and vegetable coal have contributed with 8.2%, making boilers and kilns move, from bakeries and pizzerias to pig iron steel mills.  At last, biodiesel, lixivium, biogas and other residue ensured 3.1% of our energetic matrix. Today, just the beef tallow - a residue from slaughterhouses - ensures around 20% of the biodiesel production.  The rest comes from vegetable oils, especially soy beans.

For the production of food, fibers and energy, the Brazilian agricultural industry consumes energy from the matrix (diesel for the machines, electric power, etc.). How much? 4.4%, according to the Brazilian Energetic Balance. And is returns 28%.

Agriculture is the industry with the lowest consumption of energy and 4.4.% is the number for all the farming industry: production of food, fibers and energy. The specific consumption for energy generation is much lower. A series of details concerning the energetic performance of several production chains is being drawn by the Group of Strategic Territorial Intelligence of Empraba. According to BEN’s data for 2015, the generation of energy (hydroelectric, thermoelectric, nuclear power plants) consumed 10.7% of the matrix energy.

The agroenergy is the result of solar energy transformed into chemical energy by the plants. Could France, Japan and Canada product 28% of their energetic matrix with agriculture, as Brazil does?

Probably yes, but they would consume more than 50% of their energetic matrix to perform such deed.  Why? The climate limits the generation of agroenergy with temperated climate. In high latitudes, the photosynthesis is only possible during spring and summer, for three to five months, with short cycle crops, such as corn and beetroot.

Now, in tropical countries, with elevated temperatures, photosynthesis is possible practically during the whole year, with long cycle crops, such as sugarcane, palm, manioc. A field of sugarcane or palm is one of the most efficient and profitable existing solar power plants!

Here, we win even with short cycle crops (soy, corn, sunflower), because it is possible to ensure two crops in one year (summer and winter crops). Other tropical countries could produce more renewable energy. But they don’t. In addition to geography factors, it is essential to use an innovative tropical agricultural technology - and in such a thing, Brazil is a leader worldwide recognized.

The agroenergy contribution to Brazilian energetic matrix will continue to grow. And would already be higher if erratic and wrong politics had not victimized ethanol.

The efficient use of residue and the productive integration will lead to new technological breakthroughs, such as second generation ethanol and straw gasification. With new hydroelectric power plants in operation, higher growth of agroenergy, wind power and photo voltaic energy, the country will be able to reach 50% of the energetic matrix with renewable sources. We are already one of the lowest carbon economies. We can get better, but developed countries must advance - and advance a lot -  in the decarbonisation of their economies to get even close to what we do.  When the subject is environment, as the current Minister of Agriculture emphasizes, the Brazilian agribusiness is much more of a solution than a concern.