The potential of C4 grasses for cellulosic biofuel production

R.T. van der Weijde, C.L. Alvim Kamei, A.F. Torres Salvador, W. Vermerris, O. Dolstra, R.G.F. Visser, L.M. Trindade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

192 Citations (Scopus)


With the advent of biorefinery technologies enabling plant biomass to be processed into biofuel, many researchers set out to study and improve candidate biomass crops. Many of these candidates are C4 grasses, characterized by a high productivity and resource use efficiency. In this review the potential of five C4 grasses as lignocellulosic feedstock for biofuel production is discussed. These include three important field crops-maize, sugarcane and sorghum-and two undomesticated perennial energy grasses-miscanthus and switchgrass. Although all these grasses are high yielding, they produce different products. While miscanthus and switchgrass are exploited exclusively for lignocellulosic biomass, maize, sorghum, and sugarcane are dual-purpose crops. It is unlikely that all the prerequisites for the sustainable and economic production of biomass for a global cellulosic biofuel industry will be fulfilled by a single crop. High and stable yields of lignocellulose are required in diverse environments worldwide, to sustain a year-round production of biofuel. A high resource use efficiency is indispensable to allow cultivation with minimal inputs of nutrients and water and the exploitation of marginal soils for biomass production. Finally, the lignocellulose composition of the feedstock should be optimized to allow its efficient conversion into biofuel and other by-products. Breeding for these objectives should encompass diverse crops, to meet the demands of local biorefineries and provide adaptability to different environments. Collectively, these C4 grasses are likely to play a central role in the supply of lignocellulose for the cellulosic ethanol industry. Moreover, as these species are evolutionary closely related, advances in each of these crops will expedite improvements in the other crops. This review aims to provide an overview of their potential, prospects and research needs as lignocellulose feedstocks for the commercial production of biofuel.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • miscanthus-x-giganteus
  • bicolor-l. moench
  • leading pretreatment technologies
  • switchgrass panicum-virgatum
  • water-use efficiency
  • 1st 2 years
  • sorghum-bicolor
  • biomass production
  • corn stover
  • cell-wall


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