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Bioenergy > Feedstocks > Cellulosic ethanol > Rice

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Rice (Oryza sativa), is a cultivated grain in the grass family. More than one-half of the world's population relies on rice as their staple source of food energy. [1] Rice plays a critical role in ensuring food security in developing nations in Asia and Africa, but increasing population densities and limited land and water resources assert pressure on fragile natural environments. The Food and Agriculture Organization advocates measures that intensify rice yields on existing cultivated land, if future global demand is to be met in an environmentally sustainable manner. [2] Research is currently being done into the potential for non-consumable rice straw (which is left over after the fruiting stalks are harvested) to be converted to bioethanol. This resource could provide an important source of bioenergy.

Newly harvested flood rice with grains still attached to the stalk. (Madagascar)




Young irrigated rice plants grown organically in Madagascar using the improved yield System of Rice Intensification (SRI).

Environmental Sustainability

Greenhouse Gases

  • Because of the semiaquatic nature of rice, global rice cultivation is responsible for significant emissions of the greenhouse gas, methane. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, "recent assessments of methane emissions from irrigated rice cultivation estimate global emissions for the year 2000 at a level corresponding to 625 million metric tons (mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent." [4] (PDF)



Land Degradation

Social Sustainability


  • The System of Rice Intensification is an improved yield rice farming method originally developed in Madagascar that modifies fundamental growing conditions such as increasing root zone area, controlling irrigation, and regularly eliminating competition, to stimulate rice plant development and radically increase yields. This technique is promoted in developing countries in Africa and Asia as method for ensuring food security and reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture in areas of high density rice production.


A subsistence rice farming family in Madagascar harvests their seasonal crop.



  • Researchers propose movable biofuel center, 8 July 2010 by UPI.org: "If agricultural waste can't go to a biofuel processing center, then the processing center should go to the agricultural waste, U.S. researchers theorized."
    • "Researchers at Purdue University propose creating mobile processing plants that would roam the Midwest to produce biofuels using a technique called fast-hydropyrolysis-hydrodeoxygenation, the West Lafayette, Ind., university said this week in a release."
    • "'What's important is that you can process all kinds of available biomass -- wood chips, switch grass, corn stover, rice husks, wheat straw,' said Rakesh Agrawal, the Winthrop E. Stone distinguished professor of chemical engineering."[6]
  • Haiti's Rebuild May Be Biochar's Big Breakthough, 4 March 2010 by TreeHugger: "Biochar, the 'co product' of burning wood or agricultural waste in a pyrolitic (oxygen free) environment, has garnered both praise and criticism for its possibilities as a CO2 sequestration tool."
    • "WorldStoves, a company that makes a number of pyrolitic stoves, has partnered with the NGO International Lifeline Fund and a private Haitian company to bring its 'Lucia' stove designs to Haiti. In Haiti, the use of wood for charcoal for home cooking needs is widespread, which has led to a continuing cycle of deforestation and soil [degradation]."
    • "What makes the Lucia stove so magic is that a Haitian woman or man could cook for a five-person family using just about 300 grams of twigs, groundnut shells, rice husk or dung."
    • "[If] biochar is included in the UN's Certified Emission Reductions (CER) and Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) schemes, creating it in cookstoves and sequestering it in soil could help Haiti economically as well."[8]
  • From palm oil to cotton, Benin now shifts to rice, 4 January 2010 by Daily Nation: "Known for its palm oil and cotton production, Benin’s agriculture sector wants to become known for high-quality rice and to quit importing rice by 2011, according to the government."
    • "FAO estimates Benin is using 8 per cent of available land for rice cultivation and could save $55 million and cover 70 per cent of domestic demand if it invested more in rice production."
    • "West African rice imports reached six million tonnes in 2001 and are likely to rise to 11 million by 2010, according to FAO."


  • The Other Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis in Global Land Use, 5 October 2009 by Yale Environment 360: "Our use of land, particularly for agriculture, is absolutely essential to the success of the human race. We depend on agriculture to supply us with food, feed, fiber, and, increasingly, biofuels. Without a highly efficient, productive, and resilient agricultural system, our society would collapse almost overnight."
    • "[L]and use is also one of the biggest contributors to global warming....The vast majority comes from deforestation, methane emissions from animals and rice fields, and nitrous oxide emissions from heavily fertilized fields. Yet, for some reason, agriculture has been largely able to avoid the attention of emissions reductions policies."[10]
  • Rice straw has a soft spot for bioethanol, 2 June 2009 by Checkbiotech: "Production of biofuels from inedible parts such as rice straw is so far not economically viable", however further advances in research could allow Japan to produce "2.6 billion liters of bioethanol per year from the accumulating rice straw." [11]


  • Japan Plans to Support Replacing Petrol With Wood, 29 January 2008 by PlanetArk: "Japan is set to embark on a five-year plan this year to harness a new form of energy using unused wood biomass to produce auto fuels and other industrial products currently made from imported petrol."
    • Japan's Ministry of Agriculture has proposed allocating 1.2 billion yen (US$11.2 million) in the coming year for private projects including for development of cellulosic ethanol technology, in addition to support for "consortiums comprising farmers, engineers and regional governments to produce ethanol from non-food soft plant parts such as rice stems and use it locally."





Time-lapse video showing "a rice plot over a 112-day growth cycle (21 February-12 June) on the upland farm of the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines." Video by Irrivideo.

Cellulosic ethanol edit

Cellulosic feedstocks: Bamboo | Mesquite | Rice | Switchgrass
News (Archive) | Events (Archive)

Bioenergy feedstocks edit

Biodiesel feedstocks:
Currently in use: Animal fat | Castor beans | Coconut oil | Jatropha | Jojoba | Karanj | Palm oil | Rapeseed | Soybeans | Sunflower seed | Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO)
Currently in research and development: Algae | Halophytes (Salt-tolerant plants)

Ethanol feedstocks:
First-generation: Cassava | Corn | Milo | Nypa palm | Sorghum | Sugar beets | Sugar cane | Sugar palm |Sweet potato | Waste citrus peels | Wheat | Whey
Second-generation: For cellulosic technology - Grasses: Miscanthus, Prairie grasses, Switchgrass | Trees: Hybrid poplar, Mesquite, Willow

Charcoal feedstocks: Bamboo | Wood
Waste-to-energy (MSW)


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