Sustainable Industry

Brazil’s first solar-powered mill

Cachaça Orgânica Sanhaçu is also made from reused water and waste

Reconciling production and environmental preservation, whether in urban or rural areas, is increasingly becoming an urgent matter to ensure that natural resources are still here for future generations.

Seeking a quieter life in the countryside, in 1993 entrepreneur Moacir Eustáquio, founder of Cachaça Orgânica Sanhaçu, bought 2.5 hectares of land in the state of Pernambuco. According to Moacir, “the land had half a dozen trees, not even bushes would grow.” Twenty-eight years have passed, and today the farm is Brazil’s first solar-powered mill.

“I realized I couldn’t save the planet, but I could save 2.5 hectares of land. I chose the poorest land I saw, and little by little I started changing it. I wanted a life that, in addition to being productive and useful, was pleasant for me and for other people,” said Moacir.

Cachaça Orgânica Sanhaçu’s initiatives are in line with the strategy of the National Confederation of Industry (CNI) towards a low-carbon economy in Brazil that is based on four pillars: energy transition, carbon market, circular economy, and forest conservation.

Enhanced quality – After buying the farm, Moacir set out to reforest it until it was possible to make organic products. “We started with produce and poultry meat, and we founded the first organic markets in the Pernambuco region. My son chose to work with eco-friendly products, but the vegetable garden was not enough to support our family. We were looking for a more profitable and durable product, so we came up with the idea of sugarcane brandy (cachaça), which provides a steady income stream since it is not seasonal,” said Moacir.

From the beginning, the aim was to make an organic product that would not damage the environment. “We set out to make an organic sugarcane brandy, and that gave us an edge. Organic consumers are more demanding, and that’s the client profile we want to work with. We wanted to make a high quality product, we were not looking to simply make money, but to have quality of life by making a product that is safe for consumers and the environment alike.”

Solar power – Sugarcane brandy production started in 2007. Today, the mill produces 25,000 liters per year. In 2016, solar energy capabilities were rolled out at the mill’s production area. Solar energy had already been in use at the property since 1998 – there were two panels brought from the United States. The panels are still in operation to this day.

Celpe is the utility supporting the system. The farm supplies power to the utility and in return it receives a bonus in the electricity bill. According to Elk Barreto – the mill’s business representative –, the electricity bill used to cost us around 700 BRL per month, and this is currently around 50 BRL. We could bring this down to zero over the coming months.

In addition to supplying the agro-industrial plant, the photovoltaic panels for solar energy also support household consumption. Part of the sugarcane bagasse is a source of power for the boiler as it is transformed into thermal energy.

Water reuse – In addition to the use of renewable energy, all water used for cooling in the production of the sugarcane brandy is reused, thus providing savings in excess of 50% of the total water volume.

The waste generated during production is also reused. About one third of all sugarcane bagasse produced is used as fuel in the boiler. The remaining two thirds of the bagasse are watered with vinasse, and when organic matter is added to it, including the ashes from the boiler, they form an excellent natural fertilizer that is used in the sugarcane fields.

The drive for waste reuse came from a personal experience of the mill founder: “I was raised on the banks of a river that was destroyed by sugarcane mills that dumped waste into the rivers and killed all the fish as a result. The river was dead, and when I decided to produce sugarcane brandy, I knew that vinasse was one of the byproducts and we had to dispose of it properly. We decided to use it to make an organic compost that can be used as a fertilizer for the sugarcane fields”.

In 2015, the farm began hosting visitors seeking to learn how a mill works. According to Moacir, the purpose of the visits was not only to provide an additional source of income for the mill, but primarily to raise awareness by showing how it is possible to work, produce and make a living without damaging the planet.

“When I host entrepreneurship students, I say that any company today that fails to care about consumers and the environment has no future. Whatever you do you need to take these two pillars into account, otherwise you will fail. This is because the environment is on the edge. We strive for the quality of our product and we are keen to protect the environment. We want our space to be covered in green so that we can protect the planet,” said Moacir.