Sugarcane ethanol today is made from the sucrose found in sugarcane juice and molasses. This current process taps only one-third of the energy sugarcane can offer. The other two-thirds remains locked in leftover cane fiber (called bagasse) and straw. While some of this energy is converted to bioelectricity in Brazil, scientists have discovered new techniques to produce ethanol – known as cellulosic ethanol – from leftover plant material.
This complex process involves hydrolysis and gasification technologies to break down lignocellulose – the structural material found in plant matter – into sugar, in the case of sugarcane. While cellulosic ethanol can be made from abundant and diverse raw materials, its production requires a greater amount of processing than mainstream sugarcane ethanol, making it relatively more expensive.
Once engineers and technical experts perfect commercial-scale manufacturing, production prices should come down, and cellulosic ethanol could potentially double the volume of fuel produced on the same amount of land.