The water footprint of sweeteners and bio-ethanol

Winnie Gerbens-Leenes, Arjen Ysbert Hoekstra

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117 Citations (Scopus)
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An increasing demand for food together with a growing demand for energy crops result in an increasing demand for and competition over water. Sugar cane, sugar beet and maize are not only essential food crops, but also important feedstock for bio-ethanol. Crop growth requires water, a scarce resource. This study aims to assess the green, blue and grey water footprint (WF) of sweeteners and bio-ethanol from sugar cane, sugar beet and maize in the main producing countries. The WFs of sweeteners and bio-ethanol are mainly determined by the crop type that is used as a source and by agricultural practise and agro-climatic conditions; process water footprints are relatively small. The weighted global average WF of sugar cane is 209 m3/tonne; for sugar beet this is 133 m3/tonne and for maize 1222 m3/tonne. Large regional differences in WFs indicate that WFs of crops for sweeteners and bio-ethanol can be improved. It is more favourable to use maize as a feedstock for sweeteners or bio-ethanol than sugar beet or sugar cane. The WF of sugar cane contributes to water stress in the Indus and Ganges basins. In the Ukraine, the large grey WF of sugar beet contributes to water pollution. In some western European countries, blue WFs of sugar beet and maize need a large amount of available blue water for agriculture. The allocation of the limited global water resources to bio-energy on a large scale will be at the cost of water allocation to food and nature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)202-211
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironment international
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • IR-81611
  • METIS-284890


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