A major challenge to commercial production of cellulosic ethanol pertains to the cost-effective breakdown of the complex and recalcitrant structure of lignocellulose into its components via pretreatment, the cost of enzymes for hydrolysis and fermentation, and the conversion rate of C5 sugars to ethanol, among others. While the industrialized and some emerging countries are gradually breaking grounds in cellulosic ethanol, most African countries have made little effort in research and development even though the continent is rich in lignocellulosic biomass. The paper estimates residues from widely available crops and municipal waste and determines their respective theoretical ethanol potential (around 22 billion litres annually). It further reviews stages involved in the production of cellulosic ethanol, focussing on processing methods that can be adapted to current situation in most African countries. The paper suggests that research and development should highlight favourable pretreatment methods such as extrusion, steaming/boiling, and chemical methods employing lime, KOH and crude glycerol (from biodiesel production), as well as the development of crude enzyme complexes from local materials. Though the falling price of enzymes is improving economic production of ethanol, advancements in heterogeneous catalytic hydrolysis will considerably favour economic production of ethanol in Africa due to the potential of recycling and reusing solid acid catalysts.
- Cellulosic ethanol
- Enzymatic hydrolysis