Brazil is the world’s largest producer of sugar cane. Currently, 70% of the cane is burned before harvest. However, resulting CO2 emissions are generally equal to the amount of CO2 that the sugarcane plants absorb from the atmosphere during its growing phase, which makes the process of cogeneration greenhouse gas-neutral. Still, the burning of the sugar cane crop produces large amounts of particles and toxic gases.
Fine particles (PM2.5) are the major cause of reduced visibility in parts of the US. Particles can be carried by the wind and settle on soil or in water altering nutrient balances and increasing acidity of the system.
In the United States, cane is grown in Hawaii, Louisiana Florida and Texas. Arkansas, Florida, and Louisiana contributed more than 75% of all agricultural burning in the southeast. Prescribed burns can negatively affect the wildlife, though with proper planning, this can be minimized. Ring firing (lighting all sides of a burn area) is generally not practiced and escapes routes for animals are in place.
The main effect of prescribed burning on the water resource is the potential for increased runoff of rainfall. When surface runoff increases after burning, it may carry suspended soil particles, dissolved inorganic nutrients, and other materials into adjacent streams and lakes reducing water quality.
The New Hope Power Partnership of South Bay, Florida is the largest biomass power plant in North America. The 140 MW facility uses bagasse and recycled urban wood as fuel to generate enough power for sugar cane processing operations as well as to supply renewable electricity for nearly 60,000 homes.