Technologies for converting trash to energy could include conventional high pressure steam cycles, working year-round with stored trash (or bagasse). In the short term, ethanol production from the ligno-cellulosic material or even power generation with advanced gasification/gas turbine cycles has been considered.

It has been demonstrated that it is possible to design sufficiently low cost (US$1 per GJ) trash recovery systems to make power production from trash economically feasible in Brazil. Such systems could greatly improve the economics of producing energy from sugar cane.

The implications for the labour market are the following:First, harvesting would be mechanized; much higher (unskilled) manpower would be needed for the manual cutting of unburnt cane than is available in Sao Paulo today. In some countries, it may be possible to keep manual cutting; however, the increased seasonality index (and necessarily low wages) would result in low-quality jobs.

Second, mechanization would not be as simple as the use of today’s green cane harvesters; it would include trash recovery, transportation, and conditioning.

Third, the power generation sector of the cane processing units would operate for at least eleven months out of the year (the accepted standard for this industry). Seasonality would be reduced; jobs would be created for bagasse/trash handling, storing, and power station operation.

The ethanol project in Brazil shows that large-scale biomass systems can have strong positive impacts on job creation and quality. Adjustments in the relationship between job quality and the number of agricultural jobs can be made to fit the local labour market; new technologies make it possible to use more skilled workers, reducing the number of workers for the same job. The trend in Brazil is irreversibly toward better technology and higher quality, but fewer jobs.

The ethanol programme has helped reverse migration to large urban areas and increase the overall quality of life in many small towns. During its nearly twenty years, the programme has been extensively analyzed, criticized, and improved in many aspects (legal, tributary, technological).

In designing large-scale decentralized programmes to convert biomass to energy (such as the proposed biomass gasification – gas turbine power generation systems), other countries should examine Brazil’s experience in order to gain maximum benefit.