Cellulose Ethanol: Will we be using it in our cars?
Cellulose ethanol is different from the first generation of this alternative fuel, because conventional ethanol is made from corn and other soft starches. This has led to critics of the first generation fuel to contend that alternative fuels take away from the global food supply and contribute to world hunger and famine in certain areas. Cellulosic ethanol production does not involve this drawback, because no food crops or fertile crop land are used to produce the alternative fuel. Cellulose ethanol is created using plants that grow on land not suitable for food crops, and the plants are not used at all in the food supply. Feedstocks for this fuel type include switchgrass, agricultural wastes, and even municipal waste from household garbage. These are feedstocks that would be discarded as wastes anyway, so it makes sense to use them for biofuels instead.
Cellulose ethanol does require a little more processing, because the cellulosic ethanol production process must free up the sugar monomers so they can be used in the fermentation process. Cellulosic ethanol can be made from plants that have no food value, and these plants are grown on land that will not support food crops. The feedstocks involved all contain high amounts of lignocellulose, which is the material that makes up the plant structure. This lignocellulose is broken down so that the natural sugars are released, and these sugars are used to ferment the grain alcohol that makes up cellulose ethanol. Another benefit of the plants used for this biofuel is that they grow quickly, so they are very renewable and sustainable.
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