Cellulosic Ethanol

Cellulosic Ethanol is a type of biofuel which is made from wood, grass, or various types of plants. This type of biofuel occurs from Lignocellulose, which is the structural material plants are made of. The types of plants that are mostly used for cellulosic ethanol are left over wood chips, corn stover, switch grass and miscanthus. These are sometimes the leftovers of lawn maintenance. The advantage of using this type of material to make ethanol is that, they are available in large quantities compared to corn or cane sugars. On the other hand it requires more processing in order to make the sugar monomers available to make ethanol by fermentation. This is the main down side of making this type of ethanol from Lignocellulose.

The two most studied sources for this type of ethanol are Switch grass and Miscanthus. The reason for this is because of their high productivity in a given area. Cellulose is something that is contained in every plant, whether it is growing in the forest or grasslands. Environmentally speaking Cellulosic ethanol has a big advantage over other forms of ethanol especially corn based ethanol. Studies have shown that this produces 85 percent less green house gases compared to petroleum based fuels. With corn and cane sugar based ethanol, the reduction of green house gases is negligible compared to petroleum products. This also depends on how starch based or corn based ethanol is produced.

The first attempt to make cellulosic ethanol or ethanol from wood goes way back to 1898. The first attempts were not very successful as it only yielded around 18 gallons of fuel from a ton of wood. Later this process was improved and 50 gallons of ethanol was produced from a ton of wood waste. This process continued for some time until World War 1 to be precise, but stopped because of a drop in supply of wood. This early attempt at making ethanol from wood was done by using dilute acid to hydrolyze the cellulose into glucose. In the last couple of decades this process has been stopped and a new process called enzymatic hydrolysis has been adopted.

The government of the United States has recognized the importance of using cellulosic ethanol as an alternative fuel. This has led the government in granting funds to help jumpstart the ethanol business. The aim is to produce 35 billion gallons of ethanol by 2017. 15 billion gallons of this will be corn based ethanol and the rest will be cellulosic ethanol.


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