125th anniversary review: fuel alcohol: current production and future challenges
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Global research and industrial development of liquid transportation biofuels are moving at a rapid pace. This is mainly due to the significant roles played by biofuels in decarbonising our future energy needs, since they act to mitigate the deleterious impacts of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere that are contributors of climate change. Governmental obligations and international directives that mandate the blending of biofuels in petrol and diesel are also acting as great stimuli to this expanding industrial sector. Currently, the predominant liquid biofuel is bioethanol (fuel alcohol) and its worldwide production is dominated by maize-based and sugar cane-based processes in North and South America, respectively. In Europe, fuel alcohol production employs primarily wheat and sugar beet. Potable distilled spirit production and fuel alcohol processes share many similarities in terms of starch bioconversion, fermentation, distillation and co-product utilisation, but there are some key differences. For example, in certain bioethanol fermentations, it is now possible to yield consistently high ethanol concentrations of ~20% (v/v). Emerging fuel alcohol processes exploit lignocellulosic feedstocks and scientific and technological constraints involved in depolymerising these materials and efficiently fermenting the hydrolysate sugars are being overcome. These so-called secondgeneration fuel alcohol processes are much more environmentally and ethically acceptable compared with exploitation of starch and sugar resources, especially when considering utilisation of residual agricultural biomass and biowastes. This review covers both first and second-generation bioethanol processes with a focus on current challenges and future opportunities of lignocellulose-to-ethanol as this technology moves from demonstration pilot-plants to full-scale industrial facilities.