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Abstract

The main feedstocks for bioethanol are sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) and maize (Zea mays), both of which are C4 grasses, highly efficient at converting solar energy into chemical energy, and both are food crops. As the systems for lignocellulosic bioethanol production become more efficient and cost effective, plant biomass from any source may be used as a feedstock for bioethanol production. Thus, a move away from using food plants to make fuel is possible, and sources of biomass such as wood from forestry and plant waste from cropping may be used. However, the bioethanol industry will need a continuous and reliable supply of biomass that can be produced at a low cost and with minimal use of water, fertilizer and arable land. As many C4 plants have high light, water and nitrogen use efficiency, as compared with C3 species, they are ideal as feedstock crops. We consider the productivity and resource use of a number of candidate plant species, and discuss biomass ‘quality’, that is, the composition of the plant cell wall.