Following the carbon footprint of agribusiness

Cenicaña applied the Life Cycle Analysis tool to quantify the emission of greenhouse gases at four mills in the sector. The results are essential to build a baseline for future measurements aimed at the sustainability of the industry.

With the purpose of evaluating the environmental impact of different operations of the sugarcane agribusiness, Cenicaña quantified the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) from the cultivation of sugarcane to the production of sugar, ethanol and electricity.

With these results, it is expected to establish a baseline of GHG emissions in the sector to compare the indicators in other sugar and sugar -cooler industries worldwide, and identify the critical points of the sugar and alcohol production process that provide higher gas emissions. greenhouse effect.

David Palacios, chemical engineer from the Factory Processes Program of the Research Center, explained that for this study information was collected from four sugar mills in the sector regarding field work, harvesting, raw sugar processing, electricity generation, sugar refining, production alcohol fuel and waste treatment. Data are given in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted per ton of cane (kg CO2eq/ t cane).

The first data

An inventory of the average greenhouse gas emissions of four agro-industry mills revealed that 22.3 kg CO are generated2eq/ t cane:

    • 67% of these emissions occur in the field, where the highest percentage corresponds to N2Or emitted by the ground (5.2 kg CO2eq) due to the use of fertilizers.
      •  In the harvest (cutting, moose, transport and delivery of the cane) one of the factors that most influences emissions is the burned manual cut. Shifting to mechanical green harvesting was estimated to reduce GHG by 4.9 kg CO2eq/ t cane.
      • The decrease in the application of one package of urea per hectare reduces emissions by 0.9 kg CO2eq/ t cane.
      • Emissions in the production of sugar and fuel alcohol are 2.1 and 1.4 kg CO2eq/ t cane, respectively. In this calculation, 100% bagasse was considered as fuel.
      • The generation of electrical energy from biomass contributes to the reduction of total emissions by 2.6 kg CO2eq/ t cane.

"From these results it is important to clarify that, as in Colombia, in other sugar industries in the world, the field stage is the one that contributes the most GHG emissions, mainly due to nitrous oxide emissions due to the application of nitrogenous fertilizers", the researcher points out.

According to the analysis and comparison with other industries, productivity seems to be related to emissions, since the use of inputs is maximized in low productivity.

"In this sense, Colombia has a great advantage as it has the highest productivity of the selected studies," he added.

These data are only a first step towards broader analyzes regarding the sector's impact on the environment, but the information collected so far highlights the importance of taking more actions aimed at reducing the use of fertilizers (urea) and fossil fuels in agricultural machinery in the field and harvest stages, as well as increasing the generation of electrical energy from biomass.

some definitions
  • Greenhouse gases: gases whose presence in the atmosphere contribute to the greenhouse effect.
  • Carbon footprint: totality of greenhouse gases emitted by direct or indirect action of an individual, organization, event or product.
  • Life cycle analysis: methodology to estimate the environmental impact of a product or service throughout its production process, use and final disposal.
  • Greenhouse effect: natural phenomenon with which the gases found in the atmosphere retain the heat emitted by the Earth.


The eco-indicator kilograms of equivalent carbon dioxide emitted per ton of cane converts the emissions of other greenhouse gases other than CO2 in kilograms of CO2 based on its ability to affect climate change.

Information letter
Year 4 / Number 2 / April 2016

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