Fractionating recalcitrant lignocellulose at modest reaction conditions



Effectively releasing the locked polysaccharides from recalcitrant lignocellulose to fermentable sugars is among the greatest technical and economic barriers to the realization of lignocellulose biorefineries because leading lignocellulose pre-treatment technologies suffer from low sugar yields, and/or severe reaction conditions, and/or high cellulase use, narrow substrate applicability, and high capital investment, etc. A new lignocellulose pre-treatment featuring modest reaction conditions (50°C and atmospheric pressure) was demonstrated to fractionate lignocellulose to amorphous cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, and acetic acid by using a non-volatile cellulose solvent (concentrated phosphoric acid), a highly volatile organic solvent (acetone), and water. The highest sugar yields after enzymatic hydrolysis were attributed to no sugar degradation during the fractionation and the highest enzymatic cellulose digestibility (∼97% in 24 h) during the hydrolysis step at the enzyme loading of 15 filter paper units of cellulase and 60 IU of beta-glucosidase per gram of glucan. Isolation of high-value lignocellulose components (lignin, acetic acid, and hemicellulose) would greatly increase potential revenues of a lignocellulose biorefinery. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2007;97: 214–223. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.