Cellulose is a substance made of sugars, mainly glucose and fructose. Unlike most other oligosaccharides, it is digested only partially when eaten, but it still plays a major role in human activities, notably construction, paper making, silk production and timber industry. It is common in the cell walls of many organisms, most notably in the wood of trees, and other vegetabless. It is therefore one of the main component of paper. In wood cellulose is the main component, along with lignin, a polymeric product of the pentose phosphate reaction chain.
Potential as Raw Material
The structure of cellulose contains basic hydrocarbon chains, which can be converted to ethylene (for use in polymerisation) which in turn can be hydrated into ethanol for use in fuels. Because of this cellulose has been suggested as an alternative to fossil fuels, as it is both renewable (coal and crude oil will take millions of years to reform, plants can be grown and harvested in a much smaller time period) and greenhouse neutral (the only byproducts of the complete combustion of ethanol are carbon dioxide and water, which in turn photosynthesise to form glucose which polymerises to form cellulose, this does provide the assumption that solar or tidal energy would be used to produce fertilisers and subsequent chemical reactions, but regardless biofuels release significantly less greenhouse gases than their raw counterparts). However, the ability of cellulose to support both the petrochemical and energy markets is limited by the wide areas needed to grow plants and the costs involved with this. This was an issue in Brazil during the 1950's and 60's where trials were run with 100% ethanol fuel produced from the cellulose from sugar cane, the costs of agriculture quickly surpassed those of petrol from fossil fuels and the scheme was deemed economically unviable. However, with increasing fuel costs and decreasing supplies, and advances in intensive farming and cultivation technology cellulose could very well become a major source for both the world plastic and energy markets.
- Wile, Dr. Jay L. Exploring Creation With Biology. Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc. 1998