Sugar and Ethanol Industry

During the 2010/2011 harvest, Brazil crushed a record 620 million metric tons of sugarcane and produced 38 million metric tons of sugar and 27.4 million m³ of ethanol. Approximately two thirds of the sugar produced in the country, or around 27.5 million metric tons, were exported. Raw sugar accounted for 75% of exports.


Sugar is a staple consumption product and an essential commodity that is produced in various parts of the world. Sugar is made primarily from sugarcane and sugar beet, with cane accounting for more than 70% of total world sugar production. Sugar production includes agricultural and industrial processes and it is both labor- and capital-intensive.

Global sugar production doubled since the early 70s, from roughly 71 million metric tons of raw sugar in the 1971 harvest to approximately 160 million metric tons in the 2008/2009 harvest. The increase in sugar consumption pushed up worldwide sugarcane production, which grew from less than 1 billion metric ton in the mid-90s to approximately 1.7 billion metric ton in 2009.

São Martinho believes that sugar consumption will continue to expand, driven by population growth, higher purchasing power in various regions of the globe and the higher worldwide consumption of processed foods as a result of the widespread migration from rural to urban areas. Therefore, regions such as Asia should account for a higher growth in per capita sugar consumption, fueled by the rapid growth in per capita income and the population migration. The world‘s largest consumers of sugar are also typically the largest sugar producers, with the five largest producers accounting for 59% of global production. Brazil is the world’s largest sugar producer (21% of global production), followed by India and China, which account for 15% and 10% of the production, respectively.


Despite the 77% increase in global ethanol production, from approximately 28 million m³ in 2000 to around 49 million m³ in 2007, the ethanol market is still in the early stages of development worldwide. Approximately 75% of all ethanol is consumed as fuel.

Ethanol pollutes less than gasoline as it is a clean and renewable fuel that significantly helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, its high oxygen content means that it produces considerably less carbon monoxide than gasoline when burned. Ethanol blends also reduce hydrocarbon emissions, one of the biggest contributors to the ozone layer depletion. Used as an octane enhancer, ethanol can also reduce the carcinogenic benzene and butane. Environmental concerns and initiatives have been raising awareness of the need to reduce the consumption of fossil-based fuels and adopt cleaner ones such as ethanol. One example is the Kyoto Protocol, by which the industrialized nations pledged to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases between 2008 and 2012. A total of 165 countries ratified the agreement. Global initiatives like the Kyoto Protocol will certainly increase the demand for ethanol in the coming years.

The United States and Brazil are the world’s leading ethanol producers and consumers. Ethanol is produced mainly from corn in the United States, while Brazil’s production of the fuel is based on sugarcane.

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