To improve process economics of the lignocellulose to ethanol process a reactor system for enzymatic liquefaction and saccharification at high-solids concentrations was developed. The technology is based on free fall mixing employing a horizontally placed drum with a horizontal rotating shaft mounted with paddlers for mixing. Enzymatic liquefaction and saccharification of pretreated wheat straw was tested with up to 40% (w/w) initial DM. In less than 10 h, the structure of the material was changed from intact straw particles (length 1–5 cm) into a paste/liquid that could be pumped. Tests revealed no significant effect of mixing speed in the range 3.3–11.5 rpm on the glucose conversion after 24 h and ethanol yield after subsequent fermentation for 48 h. Low-power inputs for mixing are therefore possible. Liquefaction and saccharification for 96 h using an enzyme loading of 7 FPU/g·DM and 40% DM resulted in a glucose concentration of 86 g/kg. Experiments conducted at 2%–40% (w/w) initial DM revealed that cellulose and hemicellulose conversion decreased almost linearly with increasing DM. Performing the experiments as simultaneous saccharification and fermentation also revealed a decrease in ethanol yield at increasing initial DM. Saccharomyces cerevisiae was capable of fermenting hydrolysates up to 40% DM. The highest ethanol concentration, 48 g/kg, was obtained using 35% (w/w) DM. Liquefaction of biomass with this reactor system unlocks the possibility of 10% (w/w) ethanol in the fermentation broth in future lignocellulose to ethanol plants. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2007;96:862–870. © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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