A key pre-requisite for the efficient utilization of plant biomass is the effective pretreatment of the lignocellulosic substrate so that the lignin is disrupted, thus making the cellulose and hemicellulose susceptible to enzymatic hydrolysis. Lignocellulose may be pretreated by physical and/or chemical means; however, many of the proposed mechanisms for pretreatment have been identified as costly processes on an industrial scale. These pretreatment methods can also generate chemical inhibitors that adversely affect the subsequent microbial fermentation step. Accordingly, research must be directed at:
- improving the efficiency and lowering the costs of substrate pretreatment to yield easily hydrolysable substrates;
- reducing the production of inhibitory compounds during pretreatment; and
- enhancing the integration of substrate pretreatment and enzyme hydrolysis steps.
Theme Leader: Jack Saddler
Overall Aims: To optimize the pretreatment and fractionation of selected lignocellulosic substrates to produce hexose and pentoserich sugar streams, a lignin component with potential co-product value and cellulose and hemicellulose oligosaccharides suitable for enzymatic hydrolysis and conversion to ethanol and other bioproducts. Another aim of the theme is to link the conditions employed during pretreatment to the characteristics of the pretreated substrate that influence the ease of subsequent enzymatic hydrolysis by developing rapid facile methods to elucidate the attributes of the biomass imparted by the pretreatment process