The world is currently heavily dependent on oil, especially in the transport sector. However, rising oil prices, concern about environmental impact and supply instability are among the factors that have led to greater interest in renewable fuel and green chemistry alternatives. Lignocellulose is the only foreseeable renewable feedstock for sustainable production of transport fuels. The main technological impediment to more widespread utilization of lignocellulose for production of fuels and chemicals in the past has been the lack of low-cost technologies to overcome the recalcitrance of its structure. Both biological and thermochemical second-generation conversion technologies are currently coming online for the commercial production of cellulosic ethanol concomitantly with heat and electricity production. The latest advances in biological conversion of lignocellulosics to ethanol with a focus on consolidated bioprocessing are highlighted. Furthermore, integration of cellulosic ethanol production into existing bio-based industries also using thermochemical processes to optimize energy balances is discussed. Biofuels have played a pivotal yet suboptimal role in supplementing Africa’s energy requirements in the past. Capitalizing on sub-Saharan Africa’s total biomass potential and using second-generation technologies merit a fresh look at the potential role of bioethanol production towards developing a sustainable Africa while addressing food security, human needs and local wealth creation.