Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Brazilian Rainforest

One of the greatest fears one should have in developing a new technology is that the benefits would be erased by some alternative impact the new technology has on the world. To be more specific, it is imperative that while ethanol production develops and matures as an industry that we watch out to prevent widespread deforestation in tropical areas, or work to relieve stress to food markets that biomass crops might have.

With this is mind, there is some very good news from Brazil. Once on the minds of soybean farmers in the Midwest who worried that Brazil would use deforestation to plant larger and larger tracks of soybeans, the fear has now shifted to the environmentalists who worry that encouraged sugar cane growth might take over land covered by the rainforests in the Amazon region. The problem with this is that the forests hold a lot of carbon dioxide and removing them would eliminate environmental gains made by planting a biomass crop for use as a renewable fuel. Luckily, farmers in Brazil are realizing that the land underneath the forest canopy is devoid of carbon and most nutrients since these things are held high up in the trees and plants. Soybean farmers are realizing that they have to employ intensive fertilization efforts even to get 4 or 5 years of planting soybeans on land formerly maintained by the rainforest.

Professor Peter Suurbeir, a researcher working in the Amazon region, has released his findings that increased ethanol production in Brazil has not resulted in increased deforestation of the rainforest. Rather, he points to decentralized land title claims that allow timber companies to pouch the land for wood and then leave the land vacant. However, his findings state that these lands are not employed in the subsequent production of sugar cane for ethanol.

Image showing the Amazon rainforest in green, with sugar cane production area shown in red dots, far to the South of the forested areas.


Original interview with Peter Suurbeir can be found at:


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