Journal of Environmental Protection, 2011, 2, 1303-1309
doi :1 0.4236/ jep.2011. 210150 Published Online December 2011 (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/jep)
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Utilization of Agro-Industrial Residues and
Municipal Waste of Plant Origin for Cellulosic
Fabiano Avelino Gonçalves1,3, Eliana Janet Sanjinez-Argandoña2, Gustavo Graciano Fonseca1*
1Laboratory of Bioengineering, Faculty of Engineering, Federal University of Grande Dourados, Dourados, Brazil; 2Laboratory of
Food Technology, Faculty of Engineering, Federal University of Grande Dourados, Dourados, Brazil; 3Laboratory of Chemical En-
gineering, Faculty of Engineering, Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Natal, Brazil.
Received S eptember 3rd, 2011; revised October 5th, 2011; accepted November 6th, 2011.
Today’s search for alternative sources of energy to reduce the use of fossil fuels is motivated by environmental, socio-
economic and political reasons. The use of agro-industrial and municipal wastes of plant origin for ethanol production
appears to be the best option to solve the dilemma of using food sources to produce biofuels, since it adds value to these
wastes in eco-efficient processes. This paper highlights the potential of agro-industrial and municipal wastes for cellu-
losic ethanol production.
Keywords: Bioethanol, Agro-Industrial Byproducts, Environmental Preservation, Eco-Efficiency
The interest in alternative sources of energy from plant
biomass to replace the dwindling reserves of fossil fuel
and petroleum derivatives has been influenced by the
constant increase in world crude oil prices. This was evi-
denced as recently as early 2011, when uncertainties in
the political situation of some countries in the Middle
East and North Africa drove the price of crude oil to over
US$ 120 per barrel on the London Stock Exchange .
Moreover, the combustion of petrochemical fuels has
influenced climate change and aggravated global warming,
mainly due the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG). At-
tempts to mitigate environmental impacts have led to the
search for renewable and clean sources of energy. These
sources include sugarcane ethanol and corn starch etha-
nol, which represent alternatives to overcome economic
problems and environmental impacts.
However, in some countries, the sharp increase in the
production of ethanol from starch may lead to controver-
sies regarding the use of this raw material for biofuel or
food production, not to mention the high demand for
tillable land and agricultural inputs . In this context, an
alternative to starch and sucrose-based biofuels has been
the production of ethanol from plant biomass (cellulosic
ethanol) derived from agro-industrial wastes [2-5] and mu-
nicipal waste [2,6-10]. The conversion of cellulose into
fermentable sugars for ethanol production is a prom-
ising alternative to meet the global demand for biofuels.
This paper offers a review of the available sources of
plant biomass used for the production of cellulosic etha-
nol, and the environmental, socioeconomic and political
policies involved in cellulosic ethanol production.
2. Plant Biomass
Plant biomass, the most abundant source of organic mat-
ter on earth, is biodegradable and renewable . This bio-
mass is found in forests, agro-industrial residues and mu-
nici p al wa s te [ 1 1 ] , and is a potential source of material for
the production of ethanol , which can replace gasoline
du e to its hig h energy ef ficiency [5 ] .
The structure of plant cell walls consists of polysac-
charides, prote ins, phenolic compound s and minerals. Pol y-
saccharides, which represent about 90% of the dry weight
of the cell wall, consist of cellulose (20% - 40%), hemi-
cellulose (15% - 25%) and pectin (30%), while lignin, a
non-polysaccharide, gives the cell wall its rigidi ty .
Cellulose, the main constituent of plants , is a lin-
ear homopolysaccharide with 8000 - 12000 glucose units
linked by 1,4-beta-glycosidic bonds. Hemicellulose is a
complex heteropolysaccharide composed of glucose, ga-
Utilization of Agro-Industrial Residues and Municipal Waste of Plant Origin for Cellulosic Ethanol Production 1304
lactose, mannose, xylose, arab inose, uronic acids a nd ace-
tyl groups. The branched chain presents a degree of po-
lymerization of less than 200 units . Pectin is a com-
plex heteropolysaccharide constituted of axial connec-
tions of α-1,4-D-galacturonic acid units composed of ra-
mose, arabinose and galactose . Lignin is a phenol-
lic polymer that contributes to the structural rigidity of
plant tissues . It is composed of macromolecules syn-
thesized by radicals from three p-hydroxycinnamic pre-
cursor alcohols: p-coumaryl, coniferyl and sinapyl .
Glucose molecules are joined by glycosidic bonds to
form linear chains (cellulose) that interact with each other
through hydrogen bonds, forming a structure of elemen-
tary fibrils that are water-insoluble and highly crystalline.
Four elementary fibrils are gro uped in a hemicell u lose mo-
nolayer, surrounded by a hemicellulose and lignin matrix,
called cellulose microfibrils [14,16, 17].
Lignocellulosic material is a generic term that de-
scribes the main constituents of plants, i.e., cellulose, he-
micellulose and lignin , as indicated in Figure 1. Its
composition depends not only on the type of plant (Table
1), but also on the selected part of the plant , and on
growth conditions [20,21]. This material differs from pro-
ducts with high sugar and s tarch content [5,22-24].
3. Global Scenario
Global ethanol production is monopolized by two major
producers, the USA, which uses corn starch, and Brazil,
which uses sugarcane sucrose . In both cases, this
production is based on food sources. According to Pi-
mentel et al. , the allocation of food sources for the
production of biofuels reaches a critical point when an
impasse is reached between the production of raw mate-
rial for fuel ethanol or for food. This impasse represents a
bottleneck in the maintenance and expansion of the bio-
fuels market. One of the short-term alternatives would be
to use these plants solely for food and use only their lig-
nocellulosic materials for the production of ethanol. This
would help mitigate environmental pollution and mini-
mize the use of food sources for ethanol production .
Based on this idea, the Chines e government e ncourages
the production of ethanol only from non-food substrates,
e.g., perennial grasses, and plant husks and chaff ,
and strictly controls the territorial expansion of food sub-
strates used in ethanol production . Currently, China
Table 1. Cellul ose, he micellulose and lig nin contents of some
agro-industrial and urban res idues o f plant or igin.
Plan t bi o mass Cellulose Hemicellulose Lignin
Sugarcane bagasse 33 30 29
Wheat straw 30 24 18
Sorghum straw 33 18 15
Rice straw 32 24 13
Oat straw 41 16 11
Maize ear 42 39 14
Maize stalk 35 15 19
Barley straw 40 20 15
Alfalfa stalk 48.5 6.5 16.6
Rice hu s k 36 15 19
Eucalyptus grandis 38 13 37
Eucalyptus saligna 45 12 25
Pinus sp . 44 26 29
Journal 61 16 21
Processed paper 47 25 12
Angiosperm wood 40 - 50 24 - 40 18 - 25
Gymnosperm wood 45 - 50 25 - 35 20 - 30
Nuts husk 25 - 30 25 - 30 30 - 40
White paper 85 - 99 0 0 - 15
Grasses 25 - 40 35 - 50 19 - 25
Leafs 15 - 20 80 - 85 0
Cottonseed lint 80 - 90 0 - 15 0
Sourc e : [ 2 9-34].
Figure 1. Structural chains of lig nocellulosic materials.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Utilization of Agro-Industrial Residues and Municipal Waste of Plant Origin for Cellulosic Ethanol Production1305
is the world’s largest rice and wheat producer. The coun-
try generates huge amounts of agro-industrial residues,
which may be used alternatively for ethanol production
instead of impacting the environment [35,36].
Brazil’s sugarcane production seeks to meet domestic
and export market demands for ethanol and sugar. How-
ever, this economic dependence has serious negative con-
sequences for the population. In early 2011, there was a
shortage of ethanol as a result of the higher demand for
sucrose for sugar production (due to rising sugar export
prices), allied to the sugarcane off-season, which resulted
in an average price increase of 20.5%.
Another prospect is ethanol production in Brazil driven
by the incorporation of sugarcane bagasse ethanol pro-
duced at the same industrial plant, resulting in lower pro-
duction costs. This proposal would increase the availabil-
ity of ethanol during the sugarcane off-season, and rep-
resent higher economic and ecological efficiencies in the
process. This concept is strengthened by data from Bra-
zil’s 2010/2011 sugarcane harvest. Although it was a
bumper crop, it did not suffice to meet the demand for
ethanol and sugar production. In the 2011 season, Bra-
zil’s sugarcane production volume will fall short of in-
dustrial demand by 23%. This volume is expected to be
approximately 632 million tons, while the volume needed
to meet current domestic and export demand is 775.6
million tons. The projections for 2020 are that Brazil’s
sugarcane production will fall 34% below demand, with
an estimated supply of 974 million tons to meet a de-
mand exceeding 1.3 billion tons .
All around the world, new alternatives are being in-
vestigated for the production of cellulosic ethanol based
on crops as the source of raw materials. These alterna-
tives include eucalyptus (Eucalyptus sp.) and leucaena
(Leucaena sp.) as well as fast-growing grasses of high
productivity, e.g., elephant-grass (Pennisetum purpureum),
used as forage in South America, switchgrass (Panicum
virgatum), a species native to North America, and tall
grass of the genus Miscanthus, which is of greater inter-
est in Europe . Although cultivated plant biomass
represents an advance in cellulosic ethanol production,
agro-industrial residues and municipal waste of plant ori-
gin are priorities for use as substrates for cellulosic ethanol
production [30,39- 43].
4. Socioenvironmental, Economic and
Changes in the global energy matrix have been driven by
fuels derived from animal, plant and microbial organic
matter. The search for cheaper fuels in developing coun-
tries has fostered a growth in the economic activity of
biofuel production, facilitated by the fact that most of
these countries have large tracts of land, available water
supplies and favorable weather conditions, which may
lead to regional development (employment and income
generation, population devolution and an increase in for-
eign exchange reserves). However, it is important to un-
derline the need for strategic agricultural zoning studies
to avoid environmental and socioeconomic disasters pro-
moted by huge green deserts, as well as the use of biofu-
els as an extra energy supply and not merely to replace
non-renewable sources of energy.
Renewable sources of energy are desirable because
they represent a safe and sustainable energy supply, and
lower GHG emissions [3,44]. Ethanol production using
lignocellulosic biomass is one of the most important te-
chnologies for an ecologically feasible  and sus-
tainable production of renewable fuels [44,46-48] to mi-
nimize the environmental impact caused by GHG. The
six main GHGs are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide,
hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluo-
ride . The carbon dioxide produced by burning biofu-
els is partially recycled in the process of photosynthesis,
which is when plant biomass is formed [50,51]. Ethanol
has a positive carbon balance , and also releases low
amounts of nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide during com-
The use of municipal waste of plant origin as a sub-
strate for ethanol production can lead to a temporary in-
crease in organic compounds and toxic substances in the
environment . However, this amount is small when
compared to that produced by liquid fossil fuels .
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change , climate change is caused by the excessive
increase of GHGs in the atmosphere, intensified by hu-
man activities, which is the case of fossil fuels that have
been in use since the pre-industrial a ge. Significant a mou-
nts of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere
annually. In 2002, about 24 billion metric tons of carbon
dioxide would be produced by burning fossil fuels. This
number is estimated to reach 33 billion by 2015 .
Studies on biofuel by Sukimaran et al.  demon-
strated that the potential of ethanol is comparable to that
of petroleum, making it economically feasible for com-
mercial purposes. Moreover, these authors emphasize
that the octane rating of ethanol is higher than that of
gasoline and that it produces lower air pollutant emis-
sions. In the 1990s, the Tennessee Valley Authority (USA)
developed an efficient technology for converting vegetable
waste into ethanol . The material was composed of
45% glucose and 9% hemicellulose [2,58,59] and al-
lowed for the production of cellulosic e thanol. According
to Shi et al. , the use of municipal waste of plant ori-
gin for ethanol production is a promising strategy to sup-
ply the world’s energy needs and reduce GHG emissions.
Their estimates of the socioeconomic development of
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Utilization of Agro-Industrial Residues and Municipal Waste of Plant Origin for Cellulosic Ethanol Production 1306
173 countries point to a global production of 82.9 billion
liters of ethanol fro m municipal waste, replacing the con-
sumption of 5.36% of gasoline.
In a comparison of the eco-efficiency of liquid fuels,
i.e., gasoline, corn starch ethanol and cellulosic ethanol,
Hill et al.  found that cellulosic ethanol is the most
eco-efficient. These authors reported the following costs
to produce 1 billion gallons of fuel: gasoline—US$ 416
million, corn starch ethanol—US$ 614 million, and cel-
lulosic ethanol—US$ 208 million. Figure 2 indicates the
time required to eliminate CO2 emissions produced by
deforestation, harvesting and production of some biofuels.
These findings emphasize the importance of producing
cellulosic ethanol, which not only adds value to plant
biomass for biofuel production but also requires no ex-
pansion of far ml and.
The International Energy Agency’s projections for the
global biofuel demand re veal a drastic growth in t he com-
ing decades, with a strong contribution from the road
transport sector up to 2030 . The growing use of bio-
fuels is influenced mainly by the Montreal (1987), Kyoto
(1997) and Copenhagen (2009) Protocols. However, the
UN Climate Change Conference (COP-16) held in Mex-
ico in 2010 pointed to uncertainties for the second phase
of the Kyoto Protocol, which sets mandatory and volun-
tary targets for the reduction of global emission caps
(GEC) in industrialized countries. Nevertheless, there is a
tendency for a period without mandatory targets for en-
vironmental preservation from 2012. The increase in
bio fuel co nsu mpti on is in fl uenc ed b y volunt ar y and man-
datory targets adopted by some countries (Table 2). Ac-
cording to the World Energy Assessment  and Gol-
denberg , projections for the world energy scenario
up to 2100 are optimistic, with an increase in renewable
sources and the consequent reduction of non-renewable
Figure 2. Time required to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions caused by deforestation, harvesting and production of some
biofuels [ 63] .
Table 2. Voluntary an d mandatory biofuel targets of so me cou ntries.
Country Target Condition
Germany Addi tion of 6.75% of anhydr ous ethanol to ga soline in 2010; increas e to 8% in 2015 and 10% in 2020. Mandatory
Brazil Mixture of 20% to 25% of anhydr ous ethanol in gasoli ne and 5% of b iodiesel in diesel in 2010; expan-
sion of the use of hydrated ethanol. Mandatory
Canada Addi tion of 5% of an hydrous ethanol in gasoline in 2010; addi tion of 2% of b iodiesel in diesel in 2012. Manda tory
China Utilization of 15% of biofuels in the transport sector. Voluntary
France Addition of 7% of anhydrous ethanol in gasoline in 2010a and increa se to 10% in 2015b. aVoluntary and bmandatory
Italy Ad dition of 5.75 % of anhydrous ethanol in gasoline in 2010 and increas e to 10% in 201 0. Mandatory
European Union Utilization of 10% of biofuels in 2010. Mandatory
United Kingdom Utilization of 5% of biofuels in 2010. Mandatory
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JEP
Utilization of Agro-Industrial Residues and Municipal Waste of Plant Origin for Cellulosic Ethanol Production1307
5. Final Remarks
The environmental changes influenced by greenhouse
gas emissions and global warming, the rising prices of
crude oil and its derivatives, and the ever growing global
demand for fuels, have led to the development of nu-
merous biotechnological processes to minimize the use
of fossil fuels in the late 20th and early 21st centuries
The se inno vat ion s inc lud e the de velo pment o f b iof uels ,
such as ethanol, which started in Brazil in 1920 and was
strongly boosted by Brazil’s Pro-Alcohol Program estab-
lished in 1975. Since then, ethanol participates effec-
tively in Brazil’s energy matrix and is one of the cleanest
technologies in the world. Population growth, an ex-
panding agribusiness sector and the search for sustain-
able development have resulted in the eco-efficient pro-
duction of cellulosic ethanol from low-cost agro-indus-
trial residues and municipal waste of plant origin.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the Brazilian research
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