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.

First commercial scale cellulosic ethanol facilities went online in 2012 to 2016

The largest facilities currently are 

  • DuPont, Iowa, USA, 83,000 tons per year capacity, start-up in 2016, currently idle
  • POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels, Iowa, USA, 75,000 tons per year capacity, start-up in 2014, operational
  • Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass of Kansas, Kansas, USA, 75,000 tons per year capacity, start-up in 2014, currently idle
  • GranBio, Alagoas, Brazil, 65,000 tons per year capacity, start-up in 2014, operational
  • Longlive Bio-technology Co. Ltd, Shandong, China, 60,000 tons per year capacity, start-up in 2012, operational


A number of smaller demostration plants for production of cellulosic ethanol are operational or under development. In addition, a number of pilot plants are developing thermochemical/biochemical routes to create bioethanol from commercial waste and MSW. For more details check the ETIP Bioenergy Database on Production Facilities.

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

See the ethanol fact sheet for more technical information.

Biochemical value chains
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