Sustainability of Bioethanol

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Executive summary
The Dutch society recognizes the need for sustainable production and use of biomass. This has been expressed by environmental groups and the Parliament. The Dutch government decided to seek solutions by developing sustainability criteria and certification of biomass by a commission sustainable production of biomass (duurzame productie van biomassa, DPB). Between January 2006 and July 2006 these criteria have been developed. Parallel to these developments, in February 2006 this project was commissioned by SenterNovem on behalf of the Dutch Ministry for Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment. As Brazil is one of the most likely countries to export bio-ethanol from sugar cane to the Netherlands, the sustainability of Brazilian bio-ethanol is the main topic of this report.

The main objective of this report was a comparison of Dutch sustainability criteria and the current Brazilian practice, and quantification of the consequences for ethanol production in terms of production method and production costs if these sustainability criteria are applied. To this end, the Dutch sustainability demands for bio-ethanol were investigated, including stakeholder consultation in the Netherlands (NGO’s, industry), and an extensive assessment of the current ecological, economic and social impacts of ethanol production based on sugar cane in Brazil was carried out.

While the current study contains many different types of uncertainties, no prohibitive reasons where identified why ethanol from São Paulo principally could not meet the Dutch sustainability standards set for 2007. In many impact categories, Brazilian ethanol from sugar cane scores average to (very) positive, see also table I for a summary. For a number of other criteria, problems are identified, but it also appears that these may differ strongly between the individual plants. Furthermore, for most of these issues, measures can be identified to improve performance (when needed).

For the future...
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