Commercializing lignocellulosic bioethanol: technology bottlenecks and possible remedies



With diminishing oil supplies and growing political instability in oil-producing nations, the world is facing a major energy threat which needs to be solved by virtue of alternative energy sources. Bioethanol has received considerable attention in the transportation sector because of its utility as an octane booster, fuel additive, and even as neat fuel. Brazil and the USA have been producing ethanol on a large scale from sugarcane and corn, respectively. However, due to their primary utility as food and feed, these crops cannot meet the global demand for ethanol production as an alternative transportation fuel. Lignocellulosic biomass is projected as a virtually eternal raw material for fuel ethanol production. The main bottleneck so far has been the technology concerns, which do not support cost-effective and competitive production of lignocellulosic bioethanol. This review sheds light on some of the practical approaches that can be adopted to make the production of lignocellulosic bioethanol economically attractive. These include the use of cheaper substrates, cost-effective pre-treatment techniques, overproducing and recombinant strains for maximized ethanol tolerance and yields, improved recovery processes, efficient bioprocess integration, economic exploitation of side products, and energy and waste minimization. An integrated and dedicated approach can help in realizing large-scale commercial production of lignocellulosic bioethanol, and can contribute toward a cleaner and more energy efficient world. Copyright © 2009 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd