Cellulosic sugars to alcohols (VC5)

Cellulosic ethanol is chemically identical to first generation bioethanol (i.e. CH3CH2OH). However, it is produced from different raw materials via a more complex process (cellulose hydrolysis).

In contrast to first generation bioethanol, which is derived from sugar or starch produced by food crops (e.g. wheat, corn, sugar beet, sugar cane, etc), cellulosic ethanol may be produced from agricultural residues (e.g. straw, corn stover), other lignocellulosic raw materials (e.g. wood chips) or energy crops (miscanthus, switchgrass, etc).

These lignocellulosic raw materials are more abundant and generally considered to be more sustainable, however they need to be broken down (hydrolysed) into simple sugars prior to distillation. This may be achieved using either acid or enzyme hydrolysis. Both approaches have been the subject of continuing research interest since the 1970s, and large investments are being made in the US and Europe to speed up development of this route to bioethanol.

Cellulosic ethanol is now being produced on commercial scale in Europe, US and Brazil. In October 2013, M&G officially opened the world's largest cellulosic ethanol production facility at Crescentino. In July 2013, Ineos Bio announced the start of production at its 8MMgy facility at Vero Beach, US.

Demostration plants for commercial scale production of cellulosic ethanol are also under development in Europe (e.g. Inbicon, Kalundborg and Abengoa, Salamanca).

In addition, a number of pilot plants are developing thermochemical/biochemical routes to create bioethanol from commercial waste and MSW.

Download pdf Value Chain Fact Sheet: Sugar to Alcohols (177 Kb)

See the ethanol fact sheet for more technical information.

Biochemical value chains
View at larger size >>