Liberation of fermentable sugars from recalcitrant biomass is among the most costly steps for emerging cellulosic ethanol production. Here we compared two pretreatment methods (dilute acid, DA, and cellulose solvent and organic solvent lignocellulose fractionation, COSLIF) for corn stover. At a high cellulase loading [15 filter paper units (FPUs) or 12.3 mg cellulase per gram of glucan], glucan digestibilities of the corn stover pretreated by DA and COSLIF were 84% at hour 72 and 97% at hour 24, respectively. At a low cellulase loading (5 FPUs per gram of glucan), digestibility remained as high as 93% at hour 24 for the COSLIF-pretreated corn stover but reached only ∼60% for the DA-pretreated biomass. Quantitative determinations of total substrate accessibility to cellulase (TSAC), cellulose accessibility to cellulase (CAC), and non-cellulose accessibility to cellulase (NCAC) based on adsorption of a non-hydrolytic recombinant protein TGC were measured for the first time. The COSLIF-pretreated corn stover had a CAC of 11.57 m2/g, nearly twice that of the DA-pretreated biomass (5.89 m2/g). These results, along with scanning electron microscopy images showing dramatic structural differences between the DA- and COSLIF-pretreated samples, suggest that COSLIF treatment disrupts microfibrillar structures within biomass while DA treatment mainly removes hemicellulose. Under the tested conditions COSLIF treatment breaks down lignocellulose structure more extensively than DA treatment, producing a more enzymatically reactive material with a higher CAC accompanied by faster hydrolysis rates and higher enzymatic digestibility. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2009;103: 715–724. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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