External nutrient supplementation and detoxification of hydrolysate significantly increase the production cost of cellulosic ethanol. In this study, we investigated the feasibility of fermenting cellulosic hydrolysates without washing, detoxification or external nutrient supplementation using ethanologens Escherichia coli KO11 and the adapted strain ML01 at low initial cell density (16 mg dry weight/L). The cellulosic hydrolysates were derived from enzymatically digested ammonia fiber expansion (AFEX)-treated corn stover and dry distiller's grain and solubles (DDGS) at high solids loading (18% by weight). The adaptation was achieved through selective evolution of KO11 on hydrolysate from AFEX-treated corn stover. All cellulosic hydrolysates tested (36–52 g/L glucose) were fermentable. Regardless of strains, metabolic ethanol yields were near the theoretical limit (0.51 g ethanol/g consumed sugar). Volumetric ethanol productivity of 1.2 g/h/L was achieved in fermentation on DDGS hydrolysate and DDGS improved the fermentability of hydrolysate from corn stover. However, enzymatic hydrolysis and xylose utilization during fermentation were the bottlenecks for ethanol production from corn stover at these experimental conditions. In conclusion, fermentation under the baseline conditions was feasible. Utilization of nutrient-rich feedstocks such as DDGS in fermentation can replace expensive media supplementation. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2008;99: 529–539. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.