Bioethanol (fuel alcohol) has been produced by industrial alcoholic fermentation processes in Brazil since the beginning of the twentieth century. Currently, 432 mills and distilleries crush about 625 million tons of sugarcane per crop, producing about 27 billion liters of ethanol and 38.7 million tons of sugar. The production of bioethanol from sugarcane represents a major large-scale technology capable of producing biofuel efficiently and economically, providing viable substitutes to gasoline. The combination of immobilization of CO₂ by sugarcane crops by photosynthesis into biomass together with alcoholic fermentation of this biomass has allowed production of a clean and high-quality liquid fuel that contains 93% of the original energy found in sugar. Over the last 30 years, several innovations have been introduced to Brazilian alcohol distilleries resulting in the improvement of plant efficiency and economic competitiveness. Currently, the main scientific challenges are to develop new technologies for bioethanol production from first and second generation feedstocks that exhibit positive energy balances and appropriately meet environmental sustainability criteria. This review focuses on these aspects and provides special emphasis on the selection of new yeast strains, genetic breeding, and recombinant DNA technology, as applied to bioethanol production processes.