Ethanol is ethyl alcohol, the same type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. It is predominantly used as an additive to regular gasoline. Bioethanol simply means ethyl alcohol produced from natural or renewable sources, mainly plants, or what is known as agricultural feedstock. It can be made from very common crops such as sugar cane or molasses, potato, cassava, sorghum and corn. The process of converting these plants to ethanol is fermentation. The plants most suited for this purpose are those that have a high carbohydrate (starch) and sugar content.
Most vehicles can readily accept a 10% mix of ethanol and gasoline, known as E10, while some vehicles are being purpose built to accept up to 100% (E100).
In 2011, world production of ethanol was about 85 billion litres, with the US and Brazil being the major producers.
There is now much world debate about the competition of these crops for food and fuel. This has resulted in the major producing countries seeking alternatives to food crops by producing cellulosic ethanol, also known as second generation ethanol.
Unlike much of Africa, cassava is not regarded as an essential food crop in ASEAN, although through processing it can be used in food and animal feed. It is also a crop that can be grown on marginal lands and is thus suitable for smallholders. The roots, as well as cassava waste, can be used to produce ethanol, as well as other fuels such as biogas and hydrogen. Since it is a plant, cassava has a role to play in reducing greenhouse gases and as a final ethanol product substituting for fossil fuels. It is also renewable, whereas fossil fuels are finite.
Thus cassava enjoys something of a niche in ASEAN since it is not in direct competition for food and it is usually grown as a second crop. The major advantage of cassava is that it is readily grown by smallholders, thus it has the potential to boost incomes for marginal people who would certainly be disadvantaged economically if it were grown as a plantation crop.
China’s demand for ethanol is insatiable and enhanced energy cooperation between ASEAN states will see bioethanol playing an increasingly important role for fossil fuel substitution, improving the environment, trade in energy products and energy security.