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Abstract

The cellulase activity in cell-free broths from the thermophilic, ethanol-producing anaerobic bacterium Clostridium thermocellum is examined on both dilute-acid-pretreated mixed hardwood (90% maple, 10% birch) and Avicel. Experiments were conducted in vitro in order to distinguish properties of the cellulase from properties of the organism and to evaluate the effectiveness of C. thermocellum cellulase in the hydrolysis of a naturally occurring, lignin-containing substrate. The results obtained establish that essentially quantitative hydrolysis of cellulose from pretreated mixed hardwood is possible using this enzyme system. Pretreatment with 1% H2SO4 and a 9-s residence time at 220, 210, 200, and 180°C allowed yields after enzymatic hydrolysis (percentage of glucan solubilized/ glucan potentially solubilized) of 97.8, 86.1, 82.0, and 34.6%, respectively. Enzymatic hydrolysis of mixed hardwood with no pretreatment resulted in a yield of 10.1%. Hydrolysis yields of >95% were obtained from ∼0.6 g/L mixed hardwood pretreated at 220°C in 7 h at broth strengths of 60 and 80% (v/v) and in approximately 48 h with 33% broth. Hydrolysis of pretreated mixed hardwood is compared to hydrolysis of Avicel, a pure microcrystalline cellulose studied previously. The initial rate of Avicel hydrolysis saturates with respect to enzyme, whereas the initial rate of hydrolysis of pretreated wood is proportional to the amount of enzyme present. Initial hydrolysis rates for pretreated wood and Avicel at 0.6 g/L are greater for wood at low broth dilutions (1.25: 1 to 5 :1) by up to 2.7-fold and greater for Avicel at high broth dilutions (5 : 1 to 50 : 1) by up to 4.3-fold. Maximum rates of hydrolysis are achieved at <2 g substrate/L for both pretreated wood and Avicel. The substrate concentration at one-half the maximum observed rate for C. thermocellum broths is smaller for pretreated mixed hardwood than for Avicel and decreases with increasing broth dilution for both substrates. An initial activity per volume broth of approximately 11 μmol soluble glucose equivalent produced/L broth/min is observed for mixed hardwood pretreated at 220°C and for Avicel at high broth dilutions; the initial activity per volume broth for Avicel is lower at low broth dilutions. The results indicate that pretreated wood is hydrolyzed at rates comparable to Avicel under many conditions and at rates significantly faster than Avicel under several conditions.