Ethanol’s energy is derived from plants that in turn obtain their energy from the sun. In this way, ethanol acts as a means of storing solar power in liquid form. Cellulosic ethanol is ethanol that is obtained from the non-edible portion of plant material. Cellulosic ethanol is identical in composition and performance to ethanol derived from corn or sugar cane. Cellulosic ethanol, however, has important environmental, economic and sustainability advantages over conventional sources due to its source and method of production.
Biochemical methods rely on the use of enzymes to break down the cellulose into sugar. Where do these enzymes come from? In Nature, organisms such as termites live on sugars derived from cellulose. Similar to humans, the digestive system of a termite requires bacteria to digest food. But in the case of termites, the resident bacteria produce special enzymes that can break down cellulose into simple sugars that are used to fuel the termite’s body. In industry, the enzymes used to break down the cellulose into sugars come from yeast and bacteria, which then also ferment the sugar into ethanol.