Cellulose and other nongrain materials or feedstock can undergo hydrolysis to produce cellulosic ethanol. Any non-edible plants material with plant structural components can be subjected to produce ethanol. This biofuel made from non-edible plants components burns with equal strength just like ethanol made from corn. The non-edible plants part where the biofuel is generated is commonly referred to lignocelluloses. The scientist had discovered that much of the plants’ mass are present in lignocellulose. Cellulose, hemicelluloses, and lignin are among the components of lignocelluloses. The principal advantage of producing fuel from non-edible plant parts is that the raw is readily available and insufficiently adequate amount. It is in contrary to the production of fuel from good plant components like corns and sugar cane. The harnessing of cellulose is very cheap and easy as it is available in any naturally growing plants. It does not require many agricultural inputs to get cellulose contrary to corn which may either require fertilizer for better production or irrigation for better results (Pauly).
The United States are today turning away from using corn biofuels to cellulosic ethanol simply because it is cheap and readily available. They finally realized the substantial expenses that they incurred in importing corn or sugar cane from other countries for processing. Today Switchgrass and Miscanthus are an essential source of biomass. The two plants are in the center of focus since they have significantly high productivity per acreage piece of land. Another research also supported the use of cellulosic ethanol as a source of fuel due to its unique properties of reducing greenhouse gas emission contrary to reformulated gasoline. Despite having numerous advantages over gasoline, many challenges are facing the adoption of cellulosic ethanol as a key alternative source of energy. Much more efforts are being implemented both in the energy security and environmental goals to fit the use of cellulosic ethanol.
History of Cellulosic Ethanol as a source of biofuel
The innovation of idea that cellulose can be a potential source of energy could be dated way back in the late 1800s. The first trial was made by digesting plants cellulose with sulfuric acid to yield sugar. The whole process was catalyzed through the application of heat to the chamber. This process was referred to as hydrolysis. The process breaks down extensive structural components of cellulose into smaller structures known as simple sugars. Another biological process is then repeated onto the byproducts to yield ethanol which is finally used as a biofuel. The process that converts the byproducts of hydrolysis into ethanol and water is referred to as fermentation. Records show that the first country to commercialize ethanol was Germany in late 1800s. Germany was later joined in their monopolistic market by the United States, which founded Cellulosic ethanol production plant in South Carolina in the early 1900s. The United States made other prompt steps to establish their second plant in Louisiana, but the two plants could not survive beyond the outbreak of World War I due to several economic reasons.
The application of dilute acid to hydrolyze the plant fiber was seen to be very expensive leading to the closure of some companies barely two after it operation. It, therefore, prompts more research for a better replacement of acid hydrolysis. Enzymatic hydrolysis comes as the best replacement for acid hydrolysis (Li, Zheng, Wang & Zhang). The entire ethanol production process usually gets initiated by chemical pretreatment of the feedstock to separate sugars so that it can be finally be converted simple sugars. The immediate need to reduce the recalcitrance of cellulose for faster enzymatic hydrolysis of wood lignin, there was a need to shift from conventional acid hydrolysis to a more modernized form of timber treatment using sulfite. The treatment further helped to reduce the transit time for the raw material to be converted into biofuel.
The announcement made by former U. S President George W. Bush to increase the consumption of biofuel in the country further improved the need to increase production of cellulosic ethanol. It is because the projected amount to sustain people from 2007 to 2017 was around 35 billion US gallons yet the current production from corn starch was barely meeting half of this projection. Efforts to improve the production of biofuel shifted from corn starch to plants cellulose which was readily available in the region (Olcay). The government proved their commitment by pumping over $385 million grants to contracted companies that were ready to assist in the production of cellulosic ethanol from nontraditional sources including citrus peels.
The chemical structure of cellulosic ethanol is similar to that of first generation bioethanol despite the facts that it is produced from agricultural residues. Almost all first generation bioethanol are usually derived from starch produced from food crops like wheat and other food foods (Han et al.). The sustainability of the raw material required for the production of cellulosic ethanol is quite impressing to sustain many more firms in the area. The environmental conservatives are encouraging most industries to adopt the use of biofuel since it is friendly to nature and reduce the escalated level of toxic emission into the atmosphere. Textile industries are encouraged to design new automobiles which can freely use the biofuel in propelling their engines.