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Life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions and energy balances of sugarcane ethanol production in Mexico

By Carlos A. García, Alfredo Fuentes, Anna Hennecke, Enrique Riegelhaupt, Fabio Manzini and Omar Masera


The purpose of this work was to estimate GHG emissions and energy balances for the future expansion of sugarcane ethanol fuel production in Mexico with one current and four possible future modalities. We used the life cycle methodology that is recommended by the European Renewable Energy Directive (RED), which distinguished the following five system phases: direct Land Use Change (LUC); crop production; biomass transport to industry; industrial processing; and ethanol transport to admixture plants. Key variables affecting total GHG emissions and fossil energy used in ethanol production were LUC emissions, crop fertilization rates, the proportion of sugarcane areas that are burned to facilitate harvest, fossil fuels used in the industrial phase, and the method for allocation of emissions to co-products. The lower emissions and higher energy ratios that were observed in the present Brazilian case were mainly due to the lesser amount of fertilizers applied, also were due to the shorter distance of sugarcane transport, and to the smaller proportion of sugarcane areas that were burned to facilitate manual harvest. The resulting modality with the lowest emissions of equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2e) was ethanol produced from direct juice and generating surplus electricity with 36.8 kgCO2e/GJethanol. This was achieved using bagasse as the only fuel source to satisfy industrial phase needs for electricity and steam. Mexican emissions were higher than those calculated for Brazil (27.5 kgCO2e/GJethanol) among all modalities. The Mexican modality with the highest ratio of renewable/fossil energy was also ethanol from sugarcane juice generating surplus electricity with 4.8 GJethanol/GJfossil.Sugarcane ethanol GHG emissions Energy balance Life cycle assessment Biofuel

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